For a long time, the relationship between hormones and human behavior has been the focus of many psychologists (Swaab, 2004). However, this focus has only recently surfaced as an important analysis in the understanding of gender identity. This paper focuses on this issue by demonstrating how the interaction between hormones and behavior affect sexual differentiation and gender identity. To achieve this objective, this paper perceives gender identity and sexual differentiation from a strategic point of view to explore the biological differences and similarities between both genders. The influences of the environment and its merger with biological factors also outline an important part of this document. However, before explaining the above issues, this paper explores the concepts of gender identity and sexual differentiation below
Gender Identity and Sexual Differentiation
Many people have understood the concepts of gender identity and sexual differentiation as abstract understandings of sperm and egg fusions (Swaab, 2004). However, the fusion of sperms and eggs only outline a small part of gender identity and sexual differentiation. At its depth is the interaction between many biological (chromosomes, gonads, prenatal hormones, internal accessory organs, external genital appearance), psychological (assigned gender role and gender identity), and sociological factors (family, mass media, and society) (Pinel, 2009). This paper explains some of these factors below
Influences of the Environment on Sexual Differentiation and Gender identity
John Money, a behavioral psychologist, first proposed the idea that when biological factors merge with environmental factors, the perception of gender identity changes (Hausman, 2000). He explained this relationship by suggesting that many people exhibit strong hormonal expressions (that define their sexuality) when their genes merge with social expectations (Hausman, 2000). These social expectations mainly stem from the family as the first environment, which influences people’s behaviors and sexual identities. There is therefore little contention that the family, possibly, has the greatest impact on gender identity and sexual differentiation.
For example, when a family dresses a baby according to its gender (boy or girl), they are already modeling the gender identity of the child. As the child grows up, a typical family would treat the child according to the gender of the child. For example, most families treat boys roughly, while girls tend to receive a lot of protection from family members (Hausman, 2000). Outside the family, external environmental factors (that normally manifest as social expectations) influence gender identity. The sources of these influences are diverse. They range from movies, books, music, and other media types. For example, research has shown that most children who see many television shows tend to accept the traditional gender identity roles where men are the protectors and women are “helpers” (Hausman, 2000).
Influences of Biological factors on Sexual differentiation and Gender Identity
Many psychologists have understood the biological differences between men and women through their differences in brain structures and developments (psychologists who specialize in brain structure and development have especially advanced this view) (Swaab, 2004).
Swaab (2004) presented a past research finding which suggested that most children who have extraordinary mathematical skills also have unique assortments of physical attributes. Such physical attributes included a high vulnerability to allergies and shortsightedness. Scientists have traced his unique set of physical attributes to the exposure of children to androgens and male sex hormones (Swaab, 2004). Psychologists have proved that androgens and male sex hormones have a significant role to play in preventing the proper development of the left side of the brain (Swaab, 2004).
Nonetheless, the proficiency of some groups of children in mathematics stems from one theory that suggests that improved mathematical skills mainly emerge from the development of the right side of the brain (Swaab, 2004). The exposure to androgens and male sex hormones, which limit the development of the left side of the brain, therefore compensates through the rapid development of the right side of the brain (thereby leading to improved mathematical skills). Similar studies have shown that the ability of women to have strong verbal and communication skills trace to the development of these skills during high productions of estrogen (a female sex hormone) (Swaab, 2004). Conversely, the same studies prove that the performance of women in spatial relationships often declines when the production of this hormone decreases.
From the above understanding, there are significant grounds to believe that biological factors influence sexual differentiation and gender identity. However, psychologists still do not understand the extent of this influence. Nonetheless, a growing body of evidence affirms the influence of biological factors on gender differences between men and women. Notably, human brain development has a huge role to play in sexual differentiation and the formation of gender identities. Swaab (2004) especially singles out the hypothalamus and the amygdala parts of the brain as having the most influence in sexual differentiation and gender identity formation.
Influences of Nature and Nurture on Sexual Differentiation and Gender Identity
Albeit the differences between male and female gender stereotypes are eminent, both genders share more similarities than differences. In fact, Coleman (2008) says that the differences between men and women are often minimal. He also suggests that there is a greater overlap between the behaviors and psychological characteristics of both genders, as opposed to the differences between both genders (Coleman, 2008). For example, even though many researchers say men are more aggressive than females (Swaab, 2004), in reality, some women are more aggressive than some men are. Therefore, the differences between both genders tend to take a collective approach, rather than a personal approach.
Through the above inconsistencies, developmental psychologists have come to believe that “nature-nurture” issues are very significant in understanding gender identity (Hausman, 2000). A few researchers especially took a keen interest on this issue, although they failed to ascertain the extent that each of these factors (nurture or nature) affects gender identity the most (Hausman, 2000). For instance, education and social backgrounds have significant influences on gender identity, but it is unclear how much these nurturing influences overshadow biology (male or female). The following section of this paper attempts to explain which of these factors affect gender identity the most.
Greatest Influence on Gender Identity
This paper holds little doubt regarding the ability of the environment, biology, and psychology to influence gender identity. In fact, this paper shows that the three factors may have an almost equal impact on gender identity. However, this section of the paper shows that nurturing attributes have the greatest impact on sexual differentiation and gender identity. The strong influence of nurturing attributes on sexual differentiation and gender Identity stems from their presence in almost all stages of human development. For example, at a very early age, society teaches girls and boys to follow “gender appropriate” behaviors.
Boys learn from their fathers how to be men, while women learn from their mothers how to be women (occasionally, both parents may switch this task). At school, teachers also nurture children into “gender appropriate” roles. For example, school administrators and parents expect boys to take technical subjects, such as mathematics and physics, while girls are encouraged to take less technical subjects (Swaab, 2004). Such societal expectations/conditioning tends to have a very strong impact on the gender identities of such children.
The influence of television, films, and music only further strengthens these gender identities. Research has also shown that the absence of nurturing attributes has a profound impact on gender identity, as opposed to natural attributes (Hausman, 2000). For example, researchers have established that the absence of a father figure in the family has a very profound impact on the development of a child’s identity (Swaab, 2004). Girls, for example, seem to shoulder most of the impact of an absent father because the absence of a father figure greatly affects their future relationships, and even their marriages (Pinel, 2009). Nurturing attributes, therefore, have a very strong impact on gender identity.
Biopsychology attempts to explain sexual differentiation and gender identity through the interaction between biological and physiological factors. Through this interaction, the issue about whether nature or nurture issues affect gender identity the most, emerge. After weighing the findings of this paper, nurturing attributes stand out to exert the most influence on gender identity and sex differentiation. The strong influences of nurturing attributes stem from the presence of these attributes in almost all stages of human development. Therefore, while biological factors and hormonal development may play a significant role in defining gender identity, nurturing factors may easily overshadow them. This interaction, however, exists through evidence provided from Biopsychology.
Coleman, J. (2008). Beyond nature and nurture: The influence of lay gender theories on self-stereotyping. Self & Identity, 7(1), 34-53. Web.
Hausman, B. (2000). Do Boys Have to be Boys? Gender, Narrativity, and the John/Joan Case. NWSA Journal, 12(3), 114-116. Web.
Pinel, J. P. J. (2009). Biopsychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn. Web.
Swaab, D. F. (2004). Sexual differentiation of the human brain: relevance for gender identity, trans-sexualism and sexual orientation. Gynecological Endocrinology, 19(6), 301-312. Web.