Gender psychology

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Gender is defined as a set of characteristics or traits that are associated with a certain biological sex, either male or female. These characteristics are generally referred to as “masculine” or “feminine.” The formation of gender is something that has been highly controversial in many scientific fields, including psychology. Specifically, researchers and theorists take different perspectives on how much of gender is due to biological, neurochemical, and evolutionary factors (nature), or is the result of culture and socialization (nurture). The subfields of psychology note specific differences in the traits of each gender, based on their perspective of the issue on the nature versus nurture debate.[1]

Historical Background of the Study of Gender[edit]

The study of gender took off in the 1970s. During this time period, academic works were published reflecting the changing views of researchers towards gender studies. Some of these works included textbooks, as they were an important way that information was compiled and made sense of the new field. In 1978 Women and sex roles: A social psychological perspective was published, one of the first textbooks on the psychology behind women and sex roles.[2] Another textbook to be published, Gender and Communication, was the first textbook to discuss the topic of its subject.[3]

Other influential academic works focused on the development of gender. In 1966, The Development of Sex Differences was published. This book went into what factors influence a child’s gender development, with contributors proposing the effects of hormones, social learning, and cognitive development in respective chapters. Man and Woman, Boy and Girl, by John Money was published in 1972, reporting findings of research done with intersex subjects. The book proposed that the social environment a child grows up in is more important in determining gender than the genetic factors he or she inherits. In recent years, the majority of Dr. Money's theories regarding the importance of socialization in the determination of gender have come under intense criticism, especially in connection with the false reporting of success in the 'John/Joan' experiment (see David Reimer).[4][5][6]

In 1974, The Psychology of Sex Differences was published. It said that men and women behave more similarly than had been previously supposed. They also proposed that children have much power over what gender role they grow into, whether by choosing which parent to imitate, or doing activities such as playing with action figures or dolls.[7] These works added new knowledge to the field of gender psychology.

Biological Perspective of Gender[edit]

Biological differentiation is fundamental in determining differences in males and females. Males have two different sex chromosomes, an X and a Y. Females have two X chromosomes. The Y chromosome is what determines sexual differentiation. If the Y chromosome is present, growth is along male lines. The SRY is a specific part of the Y chromosome which is the sex-determining gene region of the chromosome. This is what is responsible for the differentiation between male and females. Testosterone helps differentiate gender by increasing the likelihood of male patterns of behavior. It has effects on the central nervous system that trigger these behaviors. Parts of the SRY and specific parts of the Y chromosome could also possibly influence different gender behaviors.[8] The biological approach states that the distinction between men and women are due to inherent and hormonal differences. This approach assumes that there really is not much room for sexual expression other than the one they are given by their biological makeup. It portrays people as having their gender role already decided by biology as either male or female at birth. Biological explanations of gender and sexual differences have been correlated to the work done by Charles Darwin regarding evolution. He suggested that just as wild animals and plants had physiological differences between sexes, humans did as well.[9] Biological perspectives on psychological differentiation often place parallels to the physical nature of sexual differentiation. These parallels include genetic and hormonal factors that create different individuals, with the main difference being the reproductive function. The brain controls behavior by individuals, but it is influenced by genes, hormones and evolution. Evidence has shown that the ways boys and girls become men and women is different, and that there are variations between the individuals of each sex.[10] There have been studies conducted to try and associate hormones with the gender identity of males and females. Okayama University in Japan did a study investigating the biological nature of gender identity disorder. The researchers looked at five different sex related hormones and whether or not they increased the chances of an individual being a transsexual. They examined male to female (MTF) and female to male (FTM) transsexuals, using control males and females for comparison. Their research did not find a significant difference in the distribution of the examined genes. The results currently can not provide evidence that the different genetic variants of sex hormone genes influence an individual to MTF or FTM transsexualism.[11] The one downside to the biological approach to gender is that it does not take into account the social, cultural and political environments that can have a large influence on the different roles of gender. It is very difficult to discuss the biological aspect of gender without referring to the sex of the individual. This seems to be the case because of the varying social and cultural perspectives of gender and the sex of and individual is chosen by their biological makeup. Shadreck Mwale writes in her article in the journal for the Journal of Social and Psychological Sciences, that the biological approach, not the existence of different forms of sexuality, has brought about the discussion between gender and sexuality.[12]

Cognitive Perspective of Gender[edit]

Sex related differences of cognitive functioning is questioned in research done on the areas of perception, attention, reasoning, thinking, problem solving, memory, learning, language and emotion.[13] Cognitive testing on the sexes involves written tests that typically have a time limit, the most common form being a standardized test such as the SAT or ACT. These test basic individual abilities rather than complex combination of abilities needed to solve real life problems.[14] Analysis of the research has found a lack of credibility when relying on published studies about cognition because most contain findings of cognitive differences between the males and females, but they overlook those that do not show any differences, creating a pool of biased information. Those differences found are attributed to both social and biological factors.[15] The introduction of cultural factors are in congruence to necessary biological elements.[16] An article published in the Review of Educational Research summarizes the history of the controversy around sex differences in variability of intelligence. Through modern research, the main idea has held that males have a much wider range in test performance in IQ tests. The study also analyzes data concerning differences in central tendencies through environmental and biological theories. Males were found to have much wider variation than females in areas of quantitative reasoning, spatial visualization, spelling, and general knowledge than females. In the studies conclusion, to form an accurate summary, both the variability in sex differences and in the central tendencies must be examined to generalize the cognitive variances of males and females.[17] Doreen Kimura, a psychobiologist, has published books and articles specifically on the subject of sex and cognition. Since studying gender differences in cognition, Kimura has further proved generalizations made from research data collected in the field of cognitive psychology.[18] Males are found to be better at the motor skill of aiming, while females excel at the coordination of fine motor skills. Male chimpanzees, for example, are much more likely to throw stones or clumps of earth than their corresponding gender.[19] In spatial tasks, males found it easier to visualize geometrically and rotationally while females used references to objects when guiding through a route. Females test higher on object location memory and verbal memory, approximately over a half of a standard deviation. These tests have not been comprehensively studied over an adequate amount of time to make a full and accurate conclusion. Standardized spatial tests, like the Vandenberg mental rotations test, have consistently shown sex differences in this area over the last thirty years. The differences for such tests average to a full standard deviation.[20] These scientific findings have not been generalized cross culturally.[21] Females have shown to have a higher ability in reading facial and body cues than their male counterparts. Though studies have found females to have more advanced verbal skills, men and women in adulthood do not have varied vocabularies. Women tend to have better spelling capabilities and verbal memory.[22] Kimura refers to an example of a study done in east Africa, which correlated children, mostly males, who travelled the farthest from their tribe with excelled performance in spatial tasks.[23] She offers three possible explanations for the correlation. First, those with the more trained spatial ability tend to take part in experiences that require those skills. The unconscious positive reinforcement a person receives from doing something well, and the praise that follows, may make certain activities more attractive and more likely to occur. This phenomenon, where people end up taking part in activities or occupations in a self-directed way, is called self-selection. Second, the experience trained the person to develop spatial abilities. The type of experience determines which traits are developed. Third, an outside factor, such as early exposure to androgens, could influence both the biological and environmental components.

Though there is a lot of information about how men and women differ in cognitive functioning and the physical differences of each gender's brain, both sets of information have not been definitely related to each other in research. The biggest difference between the genders are the sizes of the brains. Men's brains are larger and heavier than women's by 10-15%, though the ratio of brain to body size in both males and females varies based on body size. Researchers propose the extra brain weight in males is the reason for the large sex difference in spatial ability. Women appear to have larger areas of connective fibers between the two hemispheres, called hemispheric asymmetry. It is suggested that there are more clearly defined roles of the hemispheres in males than there are in females because of this asymmetry. A report by Simon LeVay in 1991, disclosed information about the sex related difference of the interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus, or INAH. Females were found to have smaller areas of the INAH in postmortem analysis by Dutch and American researchers. The same differences were found between homosexual and heterosexual men. An inference has been made that the size of this region is somehow related to the preference of an individual's sex partner. LeVay notes that these findings are correlational.[24]

Social-Cultural Perspective of Gender[edit]

In most cultures, from infancy we are subject to gender socialization, for example infant girls wear pink and infant boys wear blue. Gender schemas, or gendered cultural ideals which determine a person’s preferences, are also installed into our behaviors beginning at infancy. Studies show that toddler children are more likely to interact with children of the same sex than they are to interact with children of the opposite sex or even a mixed group, which is an illustration of gender segregation.

As we get older, gender stereotypes become more applied. The Social Role Theory primarily deals with such stereotypes, more specifically the division of labor as well as a gender hierarchy. When this theory is applied in social settings, such as the workplace, it can often lead to “sexism”. This theory also applies to certain personality trails, such as men are more typically more assertive and women more passive. According to this theory, ideally in most cultures the woman is to stay and tend to the house and home while the man works to both better the house itself and increase finances.

In the midst of so many idealistic concepts on the roles of a specific gender in society, there are also individuals who choose to not to conform to the ideas of their culture. Throughout history, gender roles, particularly for women, have been altered and are much more flexible than they were in recent centuries. For women, particularly in the United States, they have been given an increase in pay, employment, and political rights. Homosexuals are also subject to go against gender conformities. The term ‘congenital gender invert’ is used to define homosexuals who possess a trait of the opposite sex. Such individuals tend to have the most social difficultly in regards to cultural norms.[25]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kimura, Doreen. (2004). Human sex differences in cognition, fact, not predicament. Sexualities, Evolution and Gender, 1, 45-53. doi:10.1080/14616660410001733597
  2. ^ Zosuls, K., Miller, C., Ruble, D., Martin, C., Fabes, R. (2011). Gender Development Research in Sex Roles: Historical Trends and Future Directions. Sex Roles, 64, 826-842.
  3. ^ Dow, Bonnie J., & Wood, J.(Eds.). (2006). Introduction. In .The SAGE Handbook of Gender and Communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
  4. ^ Colapinto, J. ‘The True Story of John/Joan’. The Rolling Stone, December 11, 1997, pp. 54-97. Available at: http://www.healthyplace.com/gender/inside-intersexuality/the-true-story-of-john-joan/
  5. ^ Colapinto, J. (2000). As nature made him: The boy who was raised as a girl. NY: HarperCollins.
  6. ^ Diamond, M., & Sigmundson, H. K. (1997). Sex reassignment at birth: Long-term review and clinical implications. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 151(3), 298-304.
  7. ^ Zosuls, K., Miller, C., Ruble, D., Martin, C., Fabes, R. (2011). Gender Development Research in Sex Roles: Historical Trends and Future Directions. Sex Roles, 64, 826-842.
  8. ^ John Bancroft. (2002). Biological factors in human sexuality. Retrieved October 21, 2011, from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2372/is_1_39/ai_87080435/,
  9. ^ Mwale, Shadreck. "What contributions have biological approaches made to our understanding of gender and sexuality?" Journal of Social and Psychological Sciences 1.2 (2008): 88+. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 6 Nov. 2011.
  10. ^ Berenbaum, Sheri, Judith Blakemore, and Adriene Beltz. "A Role for Biology in Gender-Related Behavior." Sex Roles 64.11 (2011): 804-25. Print.
  11. ^ Ujike, H., Otani, K., Nakatsuka, M., Ishii, K., Sasaki, A., Oishi, T., Kuroda, S. (2009). Association study of gender identity disorder and sex hormone-related genes. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 33(7), 1241-1244
  12. ^ Mwale, Shadreck. "What contributions have biological approaches made to our understanding of gender and sexuality?" Journal of Social and Psychological Sciences 1.2 (2008): 88+. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 6 Nov. 2011.
  13. ^ Peterson, A. C. & Wittig, M. A. (1979) Sex Related Differences in Cognitive Funcitoning. New York: Academic Press.
  14. ^ Kimura, Doreen. (1999). Sex and Cognition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  15. ^ Peterson, A. C. & Wittig, M. A. (1979) Sex Related Differences in Cognitive Functioning. New York: Academic Press.
  16. ^ Kimura, Doreen. (2004). Human sex differences in cognition, fact, not predicament. Sexualities, Evolution and Gender, 1, 45-53. doi:10.1080/14616660410001733597
  17. ^ Feingold, Allen. (Spring, 1992). Sex Differences in Variability in Intellectual Abilities: A New Look at an Old Controversy. Review of Educational Research, 62, 61-84.
  18. ^ Kimura, Doreen. (1999). Sex and Cognition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  19. ^ Kimura, Doreen. (2004). Human sex differences in cognition, fact, not predicament. Sexualities, Evolution and Gender, 1, 45-53. doi:10.1080/14616660410001733597
  20. ^ Kimura, Doreen. (2004). Human sex differences in cognition, fact, not predicament. Sexualities, Evolution and Gender, 1, 45-53. doi:10.1080/14616660410001733597
  21. ^ Kimura, Doreen. (1999). Sex and Cognition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  22. ^ Kimura, Doreen. (1999). Sex and Cognition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  23. ^ Kimura, Doreen. (2004). Human sex differences in cognition, fact, not predicament. Sexualities, Evolution and Gender, 1, 45-53. doi:10.1080/14616660410001733597
  24. ^ Kimura, Doreen. (1999). Sex and Cognition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  25. ^ Rudman, L. A., Glick, P. (2008). The social psychology of gender: how power and intimacy shape gender relations. New York: Guilford Press.

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