Psychology Gender

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Gender Key Terms

Sex: how we are born ie male or female (biological, nature). Not always obvious at birth

Sexual Identity: the biological factors that have made us male or female, usually determined from external genitalia

Gender: our sense of being male or female, being masculine or feminine ( nurture)

Gender Identity: socialy determined awareness of being male or female

Gender role: a set of expectations that prescribe how males and females should think, act and feel

Gender Stereotype: beliefs about the differences between males and females, based on gender roles

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Macoby and Jacklin ( 1974), Schaffer (1993)

Macoby and Jacklin reviewed 1500 studies of sex differences and identified:

  • girls have greater verbal ability than boys
  • boys have greater visual and spatial abilities than girls
  • boys have greater arthmetical ability than girls but this only appears during adolescence
  • boys are more aggressive than girls, verbally and physically

Schaffer added:

  • girls show greater emotional sensitivity than boys, from age 5 they show more interest in babies
  • boys are more developmentally vulnerable ( greater birth rate but more infant death)
  • girls are better than boys at language skills 
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Biological Explanations of Gender Development


  • males are XY, females are XX, because all females contain the ovum which is an X, it is the sperm that has the genetic coding to determine the sex of the foetus
  • up to 6 weeks, all foetuses have identical sex glands which can develop into ovaries or testes depending on whether the Y chromosome is present.


  • in males, the testes produce testosterone which in the 3rd month of foetal development results in the growth of the external male genitalia
  • when there is no testosterone, they will become ovaries instead
  • testosterone is responsible for the development of the sex hormones and for masculinising the brain
  • at adolescence, the surge in sex hormones results in secondary sex characteristics
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Biololgical Explanations of Gender Development

Brain Development

  • male and female brains are different in many ways
  • girls appear to be better at social skills than men and are more talkative
  • Gershwind and Galaburda suggested that sex differences may be caused by the effects of testosterone on the developing brain

Animal Studies

Quadagno et al. found that female monkeys who were exposed to testosterone during prenatal development later engaged in more 'rough and tumble' play than other females and were more aggressive

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Evolutionary Explanations of Gender Role

Division of Labour

  • We have evolved with men hunting and females staying at home looking after the children, cooking and doing housework
  • Kuhn and Stiner (2006) suggests that this can be explained in that neanderthals where both sexes hunted, died out, whereas homosapiens survived
  • The role division may have evolved because women would have spent most of their adult life either pregnant or producing milk or both; if a women spent time hunting this would reduce the groups reproductive success
  • However women would contribute by growing vegetables, milling grain, making shelters etc. This helps to enhance reproductive success and also is important in avoiding starvation


  • This is speculative as there is no direct evidence to support this as the reason that neanderthals became extinct, and climate change could be the reason
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Evolutionary Explanations of Gender Role

Mate Choice

  • what males and females look for in a partner
  • eg: youthfulness, healthiness, physical attractiveness, strength, signs of fertility, characteristics to pass on to children etc


  • Waynforth and Dunbar (1995) conducted a study a contrast analysis of personal adverts (lonely hearts)
  • They found that 44% of males sought physical attractiveness compared with only 22% of women
  • 50% of women offered attractiveness whereas only 34% of males did


  •  does not consider individual differences such as homosexuality, older partners, etc
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Evolutionary Explanations of Gender Role

Parental Investment

  • Females invest more into their offspring: 9 months, birth, feeding - if the child does not survive then they have to do this again, whereas males can have as many children as they like, so survival is not so important
  • Females produce an average of 400 eggs in a lifetime
  • Wilson (1978) suggests that our ancestors moved to living in 'pair bonds' because this arrangement provides benefits to reproductive success. Females gain protection and provision of resources and males are able to guard their mate from other interested mates


  • modern relationships - some females are the bread winners and the males stay at home
  • adoption - people adopt children who are not biologically their own so does not support the view for survival
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Evolutionary Explanations of Gender Role

Cognitive Style

  • Empathising Systematising Theory : Females better at empathising and males better at systematising
  • Tend and Befriend:Taylor et al (2000) suggests this defference stems from the different challenges faced by males and females in the EEA


  • Implications: the meat sharing hypothesis
  • Stanford (1999) suggests that when males became the hunters, because humans became meat eaters, men may have used meat to attract females
  • This is supported by Hill and Kaplan (1988) who studied modern hunter- gatherer societies and found that men use meat to gain access to women


  •  nature not nurture, determinisim, cross cultural research, implications for society
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The Biosocial Approach to Gender Development

Bio = biological, nature

Social = psychological, nurture

Gangestad et al (2006) argues that there are 2 areas for consideration:

1) There are signidficant universals in gender behaviour

2) There are significant cultured variations in gender behavior

  • Smith and Lloyd (1978) dressed babies in unisex ' snow suits' and gave them boys or girls names. They found that when the same baby was named as a boy they would be played with very differently to when named as a girl
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Biosocial Theory - Money and Ehrhardt (1972)


  • Social labelling and differential treatment of boys and girls with biological factors, can steer development
  • The parents of Bruce Reimer were told that if he was socialised as a female, he would never know that he was born as a male. This was wrong
  • The importance of biological sex is recognised


  • lack of evidence - the case of David Reimer was expected to support the theory, however it had the opposite effect
  • sample bias: All evidence collected to support the theory was from abnormal individuals and therfore it is difficult to generalise the findings to normal gender development
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Social Role Theory - Eagly and Wood (1999)


  • This theory was developed in response to the evolutionary explanation
  • where evolutionary explanation suggest that both physical and psychological sex differences evolved in response to selective pressures, Eagly and Wood suggest that selective pressures only cause physical differences
  • from these physical defferences, there are sex role allocations which then lead to psychological differences

Hormonal Differences

  • Eagly and Wood suggested that hormonal differences between men and women may be the outcome of social roles and psychological sex differences
  • Eg they propose testosterone is not the cause of aggressiveness but instead it is in fact the effect of men because of their strength engage in more athletic and competitive sports
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Mate Choice and Division of Labour

Mate Choice

  • Social role theory proposes that what men and women seek in a partner can be related to their social roles rather than to the reproductive value of certain traits
  • the physical differences create social roles - men are the providers and women have a more domestic role
  • women maximise their outcomes by seeking a mate who is successful in the domestic role. Therefore, different social roles can explain sex differences in mate choice

Division of Labour

  • Social role theory argues that the biologically based physical differences between men and women allow them to perform certain tasks more effeciently.
  • Eg women are well placed to care for young children but are less able to take on roles such as hunting
  • men have greater speed and upper body strength which facilitates their efficient performance of tasks that require energy and strength
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Evaluation of Social Role Theory


  • Theory was proposed as an alternative to the evolutionary approach, because of the importance of social factors and how these social factors have reduced the division between gender roles
  • However Luxen (2007) argues that the evolutionary approach can explain this and more simply
  • Eg very young children and even animals display sex differences in their toy preferences which suggests that these differences are biological rather than psychological because sex role socialisation is unlikely to have occured


  • a key issue with appluing the evolutionary approach is that it implies that sex differences are innate and cannot be changed which could have negative effects on females in the workplace and other equality issues
  • The social role theory supports the feminist view that changes in social roles will lead to changes in psychological differences between males and females
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Gender Dysphoria

Gender Dysphoria is an individuals experience of feeling uncomfortable with the gender assigned to them at birth. It may lead to that individual seeking gender reassignment in later life

  • those with gender dysphoria experience conflict between biological sex and gender identity
  • often referred to as transsexuals
  • gender dysphoria is the core symptom of gender identity disorder (GID)
  • first recognised in 1980 in DSM
  • rare condition ( every 1 in 11000 people)
  • GID is a psychiatric classification for people experiencing severe gender dysphoria

It is not always possible to tell whether a baby is male or female. Colapinto (2000) reports that 1 in 2000 people are born with genitals which do not match their genetic sex and they may be given an incorrect label as a boy or a girl

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Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome

Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome

  • Many individuals with gender dysphoria report that they have always felt different, that they were born the wrong sex. This suggests that foetal development has an important role
  • Androgens are male sex-hormones eg testosterone: some male individuals are not sensitive to androgens so do not respond to them. In extreme cases this causes the male external genetalia to not develop. Some of these are identified at birth and are raised as girls, although they do not have ovaries. Others are identified and raised as boys
  • Imperato- McGinley et al (1979) looked at one family from Dominican Republic
  • Four children in the Batista family were born with external female genetalia and raised as girls. The large amounts of testosterone producing during puberty caused their male genetalia to appear. These children were gentically XY but had not developed male genetalia because of an inherited gene that caused androgen insensitivity
  • The girls accepted their sex change without difficulty due to the fact that this had happened before in their family and they grew up knowing that one day they might become boys
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