- The biosocial theory created by Money and Ehrhardt is an attempt to incorporate influences of nature and nurture. It takes into account genetic disposition and the way in which an individual is adapted by the way they are brought up. Money and Ehrhardt's theory suggests that a feotus will inherit either the X or Y chromosomes from their father, therefore determining the child's sex. However once the baby is born, social influences will play a part according to the appearance of the genitalia and the child will be labelled most closely to the sex it resembles. In other words, once the biological male or female is born, social labelling and differential treatment interacting with biological facts will steer their gender development.
- During puberty, hormones begin to take effect again and the effects of these combined with the child's earlier self-concept lead to adult gender identity development. Money and Ehrhardt predicted that if a genetic male is mislabelled as a girl and treated as a girl before the age of three, he would acquire the gender identity of a girl. Intersex individuals are often mistyped at birth and the biosocial theory would claim that the social labelling is what would cause the individual to acquire the wrong gender identity, thus the main force to gender development according to Money and Ehrhardt is the label that a person is given.
+ The biosocial theory does have strengths in the form of supporting evidence, for example an observation study by Smith and Lloyd looked at the behaviour of women towards 4 month old babies. A baby was dressed as either a girl or a boy and introduced to the women with a gender appropriate name. The mothers were observed to see whether the perceived gender of the baby impacted how they reacted to it. The findings showed that the women selected a gender appropriate toy in accordance to what they perceived the child's gender to be.
+ This therefore provides evidence for the theory as you would expect the behaviours towards the sexes to be different to create gender differences. If people are treated differently from a very young age as a result of their gender identity, it can explain how an individual can acquire their gender identity as a result of social labelling so therefore supports the biosocial theory on gender development, therefore increasing its validity.
- However the biosocial theory does have weaknesses, for example contradictory evidence suggests that biological factors are more important than social labelling when looking at gender development. The biosocial theory claims if an individual is mistyped before the age of 3 they will acquire that incorrect gender identity, however the case of David Reimer proves that this is not always the case. Reimer's penis was burnt off during a botched circumcision at 6 months resulting in him being brought up as a girl, Brenda. However Brenda never felt comfortable as a girl and when she found out that she was genetically male at the age of 14 she immediately reverted back to being a boy.
- This case study shows that despite being labelled as a girl from 6 months old David still felt like a boy inside emphasising how in this case biological factors were far more significant towards his gender development than social labelling and differential treatment.
- This therefore weakens the biosocial approach as it lowers the internal validity due to factors apart from social labelling were found to be more significant. It therefore makes it difficult to establish a cause and effect relationship between social labelling and gender development. This in turn means we cannot be sure social labelling is the main factor in steering gender development as this case study shows biological factors can be more significant.
- Conversely the biosocial theory does have further strengths, for example it is supported by the social role theory which was developed by Eagly and Wood. This theory claims that selective pressures cause physical differences between men and women which in turn leads to sex role allocations which then creates psychological differences between men and women as a result of the role allocations.
- According to the social role theory selective pressure causes men to be bigger and stronger than women, which leads them to being assigned the role of hunter which then causes psychological differences which emerges from these social roles i.e. because they are assigned to the role of hunter they become more aggressive.
- This supports the biosocial theory of gender development because it too suggests that social labelling is what causes psychological gender differences, this therefore increases the reliability of the biosocial theory as the notion that social labelling is the most important factor towards gender development is consistently supported, even among other theories of gender development. This means we can be fairly sure that social labelling does play a significant role towards gender development.
- The biosocial theory is seen as an interactionist approach, this means that the theory takes into account both social and biological factors that influence gender (nature and nurture). Social role theory takes a social constructionist approach, suggesting that much of human behaviour is an invention or outcome of a society or culture and behaviours are best understood in terms of the social context in which they occur.
- As both these approaches are stronger than just the biological approach, the theories are higher in validity and the theories are also more holistic than the biological approach which is reductionist. As they take into account both social and biological factors they take a more holistic view and are therefore more representative of what may actually occur as they give more complex explanations of human behaviour.
- The theories also take into account both sides of the nature-nurture debate, the nature side being the biological factors such as genes and hormones which are accounted for, and the nurture side being the social factors such as social labelling and social roles which interact with the biological factors to determine gender identity and development.