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AQA A-level Psychology Gender

This section provides revision resources for AQA A-level psychology and the Gender chapter. The revision notes cover the AQA exam board and the new specification. As part of your A-level psychology course, you need to know the following topics below within this chapter:

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Sex and Gender

The A-level psychology specification states you need to know the following for the Gender topic and Sex and Gender:

  • Sex-role stereotypes
  • Androgyny and measuring androgyny including the Bem Sex Role Inventory

Sex and gender are not the same thing, although there is some overlap.

Sex refers to whether an individual is biologically male or female while gender refers to the social and psychological characteristics that relate to males and females.

Sex-role Stereotypes

Sex-role beliefs concern the types of characteristics and qualities expected of members of each sex and these beliefs are what become sex-role stereotypes (also known as gender stereotypes) and the rules which are expected to be followed by individuals.

As these sex-role stereotypes are shared by the majority of people, they come to be seen as the 'expected' or 'proper' qualities to be exhibited with society forming expectations about how boys and girls behave as well as men and women.

Sex-role stereotypes are learned from birth as children are exposed to the attitudes of parents and others within society who go on to reinforce these expectations of masculine or feminine behaviour. Therefore, it is argued that much of what is considered as masculine or feminine is learned as a process of socialisation processes and the passing on of beliefs, attitudes and behaviours from one generation to another.

Sex-role stereotypes for females involve nurturing behaviour, co-operative, domesticated, emotional, passive (non-aggressive) and pretty. Males on the other hand are expected to be strong, independent, physical, aggressive and unemotional.

The holding of sex-role stereotypes also leads to an overemphasis on the differences between the two genders with males seen as competitive where as females are seen as more co-operative.

Other ways stereotypes and gender norms are portrayed is through media, such as television and magazines. Media plays a powerful role in influencing gender roles in society for both children and adults. Culture also plays a strong role in influencing gender norms although many stereotypes are common across cultures, such as males being aggressive and females being passive. Considerable differences between cultures also exist where certain behaviours and attitudes regarded as masculine in one culture are seen as feminine in another culture. 

Evaluating Sex-role Stereotypes

  • Support for parent influence reinforcing sex-role stereotypes comes from research by Smith and Lloyd (1978). They conducted an experiment that showed mothers treated babies differently based on whether they were perceived to be a boy or girl. A sample size of 32 mothers was formed and videotaped playing for 10 minutes with a baby that was 6 months old (not their own child). The babies were dressed and named as either a boy or girl. In truth two were actually boys and two were girls but their clothes and names were not always consistent with their biological sex. A number of toys were present that were stereotypically either for boys or girls and the mothers interactions were observed. The results found that if the mother thought she was playing with a boy, she verbally encouraged more motor activity and offered gender affirming toys. In essence, the mothers were seen to respond to the perceived sex of the child in line with stereotypical gender expectations.
  • The fact that sex-role stereotypes can differ significantly across different cultures suggests the characteristics associated with sex roles are culturally transmitted and due to nurture. This implies that environmental learning experiences are stronger than biological forces in determining sex-role stereotypes.
  • If as the evidence suggests, gender norms are defined by the environment and learning, this presents us with real world applications to tackle negative stereotypes on gender roles. For example, stereotypes can be tackled by providing learning experiences for children that would reinforce the idea of positive sex roles being equally applicable across males and females.
  • Although cultural influences result in different forms of gender stereotypes, with globalisation and the breakdown of cultural beliefs and practices, we may see a movement towards universal gender norms in all cultures.


Androgyny involves having both male and female characteristics and was introduced by psychologist Sandra Bem in the 1970s. This idea opposes the traditional view that masculine and feminine behaviours are separate.

Traditionally, individuals were seen as either masculine or feminine and those with a good fit with their gender roles, that is masculine males and feminine females, were better adjusted psychologically. This view resulted in psychological tests making it impossible to score highly as both masculine and feminine (i.e. androgynous).

Bem argued that the traditional view that rigid sex roles were important for mental health was incorrect and it was actually psychologically more health to avoid fixed sex-role stereotypes. Bem argued that men and women should feel free to adopt a variety of masculine and feminine type behaviours to suit their personality, i.e. if men enjoyed cooking or being gentle, they should not have to be stifled. The thinking here was that stifling a persons personality has psychological costs such as the potential to lead to mental disorders.

To test her ideas, Bem created the Bem Sex Role Investory (BSRI), a psychological test to measure androgyny within individuals.

The test was developed by asking 100 American undergraduates which personality traits they thought were desirable for men or women. 20 masculine traits and 20 feminine traits were available to choose from with 20 neutral traits also included as distractors. Each person rated themselves on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from never to almost never true to almost always true.

The test was designed so participants could be tested for both masculinity and femininity independently unlike traditional tests that limited to classifying an individual towards only one. Numerical scores for masculine and feminine traits are then added up allowing individuals to be categorised as either masculine (high masculine score, low feminine), feminine (low masculinity, high feminine) and androgynous (high ratio of masculine to feminine traits).

An additional forth category of undifferentiated was added (low scores for both masculine and feminine traits) after criticism by Spence et al (1975), who highlighted that the test did not differentiate between androgynous (high in both masculine and feminine traits) and a person that is neither masculine nor feminine (low in both).

Bem subsequently developed Gender Schema Theory which explained differences between an androgynous person and a traditionally sex-typed person due to cognitive style. She argued that when an androgynous person is faced with a decision on how to behave, they respond independently of any gender concepts. On the other hand, a traditionally sex-typed person determines what would be appropriate based on their gender due to their gender schemas. Bem therefore argued that a person was was free in their cognitive style (I.e. an androgynous individual) would be psychologically healthier.

Evaluating Androgyny and the Bem Sex Role Investory (BSRI)

  • Prakesh et al (2010) found a positive correlation between androgyny and psychological health in line with Bem's predictions. 100 married females were tested in India on masculinity/femininity and a range of outcome measures related to physical and psychological health. Females with high masculinity scores had lower depression scores where as those with high femininity scores had higher depression scores. This supported Bem's theory that androgyny had a psychoprotective effect as those with masculinity and femininity traits were healthier.
  • If androgyny is better for psychological and physical wellbeing, then there are real-world applications for this. For example, parents could be encouraged to raise their children free to assume either gender traits without sex-role stereotypes imposed on them. There are some individual cases where this has occurred with parents raising their children in a gender-neutral manner (Time Magazine, 2012) however, there was significant protest about this from people. This demonstrated how strongly people felt that such stereotypes were important to healthy development.
  • The reliability of the Bem Sex Role Inventory has been consistently established. The test as a high test-retest reliability with correlations ranging from .76 to .94 (Bem, 1981) suggesting the test is reliable however there are questions about it's validity. For example, the link between androgyny and psychological health could be explained in terms of another variable such as self-esteem. Most of the adjectives (traits) in the Bem Sex Role Inventory are socially desirable, therefore someone who scored high across masculine and feminine traits (i.e. androgynous) would also be higher in self-esteem than someone who only related to only male or female traits. This means that androgyny may not explain psychological healthiness at all.
  • Further criticism regarding the validity of Bem's test has been raised in terms of potential response bias. Liberman and Gas (1986) analysed the data from 133 graduate students and found the students classed as androgynous simply had higher overall scores than those classes as either masculine or feminine. This occurs because some participants may have a tendency to select answers at the higher end of the Likert scale resulting in them being classed as androgynous. Therefore the scores may not represent a true different and simply be an artefact of the measure used.
  • Another criticism is that of temporal validity of the scale. The adjectives used in the Bem Sex Role Inventory were selected back in the 1970s and significant changes in attitudes have occurred since then. This raises the question whether the test is still appropriate for modern use. Hoffman and Borders (2001) asked a group of 400 undergraduates to rate the items on the Bem Sex Role Inventory based on whether they were perceived as masculine or feminine. The results showed that only two terms were still endorsed as masculine and feminine and these were the adjectives masculine and feminine themselves. The other terms in the test failed to reach a 75% agreement level suggesting the BSRI is no longer relevant and lacks temporal validity.

The Role of Chromosomes and Hormones in Sex and Gender

For the role of chromosomes and hormones in sex and gender, you will need to know the following:

  • The role of chromosomes (typical chromosome patterns and Atypical chromosome patterns including Klinefelter's syndrome and Turners syndrome)
  • The role of hormones (testosterone, oestrogen and oxytocin)

The Role of Chromosomes

Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes in each cell of their body with each pair carrying genes that control different physical and behavioural characteristics including eye colour, hair colour or even a persons predisposition to certain mental illnesses.

One pair of chromosomes are known as the sex chromosomes because they determine an individuals biological sex.

For females, this pair is called XX due to the chromosomes being shaped like two Xs. For males, the pair of chromosomes are called XY with the Y chromosome carrying very little genetic information although it does determine the biological sex of the child. Any combination of chromosomes other than XX or XY would be classed as Atypical.

There is usually a direct link between the persons chromosomal sex (whether its XX or XY) and their external genitalia (whether they have a vagina or penis) and internal genitalia (ovaries or testes).

During pregnancy and a few weeks after conception, both male and female embryos have external genitalia that are essentially female. Once the foetus is 3 months old, if it is to develop into a male, the testes produce testosterone which causes the external male genitalia to develop. Genetic transmission therefore explains how individuals acquire their biological sex as well as aspects of gender and their sense of whether they are male or female.

Klinefelters Syndrome

Klinefelter's syndrome occurs when the chromosomes have an Atypical combination of XXY with 1 in every 1000 believed to have this condition.

The individual would develop into a reasonably normal male although they may be taller than average, have less muscular coordination than average and look less masculine because of lower levels of testosterone. This may result in less facial hair, broader hips and potential breast tissue with many often being infertile. Psychological effects include poor language skills that affect reading ability and a noticeable passive temperament, attention problems and an increased risk of anxiety disorders and depression.

Turner's Syndrome

Turner's syndrome is a genetic condition affecting 1 in 2200 females and occurs due to an XO configuration. 

This means the second sex chromosome is partly or completely missing. Affected individuals are born with a vagina or womb with characteristics that include them being shorter than average, lacking monthly periods due to underdeveloped ovaries, small lower jaw, webbed neck, narrow lips and misshapen internal organs. 

Medical complications can arise for those suffering from Turner's syndrome such as heart conditions, high blood pressure, urinary complaints, vision and hearing problems and osteoporosis. Psychological problems include social adjustment due to their physical appearance and minor learning difficulties.

Treatment usually consists of administering growth hormone as well as oestrogen and progesterone supplements which allows affected sufferers to lead relatively normal lives albeit with slightly reduced average life spans.

The Role of Chromosomes Evaluation

  1. Research into patients affected with Klinefelter's syndrome and Turner's syndrome has seen the development of therapies that improve the quality and duration of their lives. For example, treating stunted physical growth often seen with Turner's syndrome with growth hormones and the treatment of Klinefelter's syndrome with testosterone.
  2. The comparison of people with typical and atypical chromosome patterns has also helped researchers see what aspects of biological development and behaviour are under the influence of genetics and chromosomes and separate this from the influence of nurture through identifying common traits and behaviours.
  3. Attempts to challenge biological determinism have been made by psychologists such as John Money (Money and Ehrhardt, 1972) who have suggested biological sex was not the main factor in gender development. Instead, he argued that sex of rearing was more important and recommended intersex individuals such as David Reimer could be raised successfully as either a boy or girl. This proved not to be the case with David who despite being raised as a girl, re-assigned himself as a boy once he discovered he was biologically male. David Reimer ultimately committed suicide due to the trauma he experienced from being raised as the wrong sex. This highlights that biological factors have a key role in gender development and mustn't be ignored.
  4. Klinefelter's syndrome and Turner's syndrome can actually be diagnosed prenatally based on cytogenetic analysis of the foetus. This is however a ethically and socially sensitive area as a diagnosis of such may incur a demand or bring about pressure upon prospective parents to ask for an abortion.
  5. The extraction of eggs from pre-pubescent girls affected with Turner's syndrome offers an opportunity for them later attaining pregnancy and the enhanced psychosocial benefits that would bring. This presents us with real world applications to help those affected should they wish to become mothers in later life but are affected by poor mental health due to their inability to have children.

The Role of Hormones

Genes and chromosomes determine an individuals biological sex and this subsequently determines what hormones they will produce. Males produce testosterone at much greater quantities while oestrogen and oxytocin are mainly female hormones. Gender development is mostly attributed to hormones.


Testosterone is a steroid hormone which stimulates the development of male secondary sexual characteristics. Although it is predominantly found in males, females also produce about 10% of the testosterone found in males. 

The influence of testosterone begins early in pregnancy and affects the development of genitalia as well as the brain and behaviour. The gonads are sex glands with testes in males and ovaries in females and originally these are both identical in both XY and XX embryos. However with XY individuals (biological males), genetic information in the Y chromosome causes the gonads to become testes and by the 8th week of gestation, they begin producing hormones, primarily testosterone.

If the gonads do not become testes, they will become ovaries which do not product significant amounts of hormones prenatally. The SRY gene within the Y chromosome controls where the gonads will develop into testes or ovaries.

From between weeks 8 and 24, XY foetuses have higher levels of testosterone however between that point and birth, hormone levels are low in both sexes. A surge in testicular hormones after birth makes testosterone higher in boys than in girls for about the first six months

Testosterone causes the development of the male sex organs but also acts on the hypothalamus to0, without which the brain would develop as that of a female type. Testosterone effectively acts to masculinise the brain, particularly the areas linked to spatial skills and behaviours such as aggression and competitiveness. The hypothalamus is different between males and females with the sexual dimorphic nucleus bigger in males. It is believed these differences occur due to the influence of sex hormones such as testosterone although this is not a view that is universally accepted.


Oestrogen is part of a group of steroid hormones such as oestradiol, oestrone and oestriol and promotes the development and maintenance of female characteristics of the body as well as regulate menstruation later on. Although primarily a female hormone, small amounts are actually produced by males too.

Oestrogen influences physical changes of the body such as the development of breasts and behavioural effects such as premenstrual tension (PMT) which is associated with emotionality, irritability, irrational behaviour, lapses in self-control and in some cases anti-social and criminal behaviours. Much like testosterone is thought to masculinise the brain, oestrogen is believed to feminise it by promoting neural interconnections for a more distributed brain (equal use of both hemispheres). Oestrogen is also believed to be associated with feminine traits such as sensitivity and co-operation.


Oxytocin is a polypeptide hormone and has been often called the 'love' hormone. 

Oxytocin acts as a neurotransmitter and is produced in and outside of the brain by both males and females to control key components of the reproductive system. Oxytocin is produced in the pituitary gland and evokes feelings of contentment and calmness and it is particularly important in women breastfeeding as it causes the milk to flow in a lactating mother. In men, oxytocin is related to orgasm and faster wound healing. 

During times of stress, oxytocin dampens the fight-or-flight response with females engaging in the alternative tend and befriend response (Taylor et al, 2000). This does not occur in males as testosterone dampens the effects of oxytocin.

Oxytocin also helps facilitate childbirth in females by stimulating contractions as well as social behaviour such as mate selection, nesting behaviour, monogamy and pair bonding, as well as the nurturing, acceptance and protection of their young. 

The Role of Hormones Evaluation

  • The effects of hormones such as testosterone and their effects on brain development have been confirmed in animal studies. For example, Quadagno et al (1977) found female monkeys who were exposed to testosterone during prenatal development later engaged in more rough-and-tumble play and were more aggressive than other females. The issue with this study is animal behaviour does not always generalise to humans because humans have an awareness of free will, choice and expectations. Eisenegger at al (2010) conductsd a study where by women were observed playing a bargaining game. One group who believed they had been given a dose of testosterone were found to engage in a more unfair manner than those who believed they had been given a placebo. This demonstrated the effect of expectations particularly in humans and the difficulty in isolating a direct relationship between hormones and human behaviour.
  • It is too simplistic to perceive single hormones as having exclusive effects upon sex and gender. Hormones are often one part of a complex biological mechanism that exert multi-faceted and complex actions upon the human body and behaviour. An example of this is the interaction of sex chromosomes, the SRY gene, gonadal hormones.
  • Research into the role hormones in sex and gender has led to significant beneficial practical applications. For example, administering oxytocin has proved beneficial during childbirth as it reduces haemorrhaging, decreasing mortality rates in mothers and infants. Oxytocin has also proved helpful in instigating labour and maintaining labour and the secretion of milk so mothers can breastfeed. Testosterone has  proven useful for men with problems attaining and maintaining erections or with low libido. It has also proved useful in increasing libido in women who are post-menopausal or have had an hysterectomy. Oestrogen supplements also offer increased protection against the risk of strokes and protection against osteoporosis in post-menopausal women.

Cognitive Explanations of Gender Development

For cognitive explanations of gender development, the a-level specification states you need to know about the following:

  • Kohlberg’s theory including gender identity, gender stability and gender constancy.
  • Gender schema theory

Kohlberg's Theory

Kohlberg’s theory is based on the cognitive approach which focuses on cognition explaining the development of gender.

The theory is based on Piaget’s idea that the way we think changes in stages through age and as we get older the brain becomes capable of more complicated, abstract and logical thinking.

Stage 1: Gender labelling

The first stage is known as Gender labelling occurring at ages 1.5 to 3 years old with children recognising either they are a male or female based on appearances only. This helps them better understand and categorise the world however this knowledge is still fragile and they may often choose incorrect labels as they may not realise boys become men or girls become women.

Physical appearances such as long hair on men may also lead to incorrectly being thought of as a woman as thinking at this stage has little internal logic and is based on superficial assumptions such as appearance.

Stage 2: Gender stability

The second stage is known as Gender stability with children around the ages of 3 to 5 coming to realise that gender is consistent over time with boys maturing and growing into men while girls turn into women.

Children at this age may not however realise that gender is consistent between different situations and may be influenced by appearance i.e. if a woman cuts her hair short then she must have changed gender into a male. Therefore children of this age lack the ability to conserve or use logic. McConaghy highlighted how young children would continue to see a line drawing of a doll in a dress as female even when the male genitals were visible.

Stage 3: Gender Constancy

Stage 3 is known as Gender consistency and develops from ages 6 to 7 onwards with children coming to realise gender is permanent.

Gender constancy represents a kind of conservation and understanding that despite changing in appearances (males wearing a dress or females cutting their hair short) they remain the same gender. Once gender consistency is acquired children begin to value the attitudes and values associated with their gender. They begin relating themselves to adult role models who they feel have qualities similar to their own concept of themselves such as parents. This process is known as self-socialisation. They may also show preference to same-sex playmates as well as gender stereotyped activities. Prior to this stage children may have seen their own gender as flexible to change.

Kohlberg's Theory Evaluation

  • Supporting evidence for stage one (Gender labelling) comes from a study by Thompson (1975). He found that two year olds were correct 76% of the time in recognising their own gender however children aged 3 were correct 90% of the time. This supports Kohlberg’s theory as it shows an increased ability to recognise their own label through age that follows his pattern of stages.
  • Further supporting evidence comes from a study by Slaby et al. Children were asked questions to assess their understanding of their own gender i.e. will you be a mummy or daddy when you grow up? Results found that children were not able to recognise that gender was consistent over time until they reached ages 3-4 onwards which is inline with Kohlberg’s theory. However a criticism of this study is children may lack the mental development needed to even consider such questions at this age let alone show any understanding of the answers.
  • Munroe et al also found cross-cultural support for Kohlberg’s theory. Children between several cultures were seen to follow the 3 stages proposed by Kohlberg which may suggest an evolutionary link in gender development. These findings have wider population validity as they appear to apply across cultures.
  • However a criticism is that social learning theory may provide a better account for children’s motivation for selecting and conforming to gender categories. Another criticism of Kohlberg’s theory is the explanation is descriptive but not explanatory. The 3 stages highlight what occurs but offers no explanation as to why each stage occurs.
  • Another criticism of Kohlberg’s cognitive approach is that other approaches such as the biological or social approaches may explain gender development better. Unlike the biological approach, the cognitive approach can not explain the difference in prenatal hormones and how this may be affecting development where as the biological approach attempts to give a more holistic account of this before and after birth.
  • Kohlberg’s cognitive approach is also not able to explain how genes may also be involved in gender development as if hormones differ between the sexes then this would be caused by genetics dictating these differences in biology which is also unaccounted for in Kohlberg’s theory. Therefore attempting to explain gender development as purely a cognitive process is reductionist as it attempts to simplify the explanation to one component (cognition) when evidently there are numerous other factors (genes and hormones) involved which are not considered. Therefore Kohlberg’s theory assumes it is “nurture” influencing psychological processes in gender development rather than “nature” and biology.
  • Research into Kohlberg’s theory raises ethical issues around socially sensitive research. His theory proposes it is cognition and thinking that determines gender and this raises the possibility that people may view those with gender dysphoria in a discriminatory way. They may be seen as “choosing” to behave in a socially deviant way which may lead to less tolerance of transsexuals or even stretch into assuming gay and lesbians are also “choosing” their sexuality.
  • Also the theory may be incomplete as Slaby and Frey (1975) found gender consistency appeared younger than Kohlberg’s theory predicted (as young as 5 years old). Even in early infancy boys and girls begin to show preferences for their gender related toys which casts potential doubts on Kohlberg’s idea of universal stages of development. In addition, the lives of children now are significantly different to when the study was conducted and the results may lack temporal validity. For example, children now are exposed to different kinds of gender information through various media and digital formats and may therefore develop their understanding of constancy at a much earlier age.

Gender Schema Theory

A gender schema is an organised coupling of related concepts on ones gender which according to Gender schema theory, starts to develop at ages 2 to 3 years old.

Gender schema theory was first introduced by Sandra Bem and this later version was developed by Martin and Halverson (1981).

Gender schema theory is a cognitive approach which proposes the process of acquiring gender-relevant information happens before gender consistency is achieved with gender identity alone as providing the motivation required for children to assume same sex behavioural traits. Children do not need to understand that gender is permanent and develop their schemas related to their gender through the interactions they have with adults and children as well as through the media, similar to what social learning theory suggests. The stereotypes serve the function of organising, structuring and helping children learn about the environment and what toys, clothing and behaviour are suitable for their gender. Alternatively adults and other children will also emphasise and feed into these gender schema’s in various ways through reinforcements and punishments too.

In-group schemas are formed and concern the attitudes, expectations and behaviours of their own gender which individuals then identify with. This may lead them to regard their own gender group positively while seeing out-group’s (opposite genders) negatively. Out-group schemas are the attitudes, expectations and behaviours expected of the opposite gender with even some toys being allocated as “for girls” or “for boys”. Positively viewing their own in-group motivates the child to learn more about their own gender and develop their in-group schemas further.

Gender schema theory is able to explain why children hold strong and fixed beliefs around their gender attitudes as they disregard information that is not consistent with their own in-group schema. Therefore the theory predicts that gender schema’s should also have a profound effect on what is remembered too.

Gender Schema Theory Evaluation

  • There is supporting evidence for Gender schema theory from Martin and Little (1990). They found children younger than 4 showed no signs of gender constancy or stability however did display strong stereotypes in regards to gender roles. This highlights information on gender specific behaviour has been acquired before Kohlbergs theory suggests which is inline with Gender schema theory.
  • Gender schema theory predicts a testable hypothesis;. If gender schemas acquire in-group gender information while ignoring out-group information, we would expect people to recall information on their in-group more. This was proven to be the case with Halverson and Martin's 1931 study. When children were tasked with recalling pictures of people, they were found to recall pictures that were more gender consistent such as a male fire fighter than gender inconsistent ones such as female chemists. These findings are inline with gender schema theory as children appear to absorb in-group information more than out-group information. However a criticism of this study is that simple conditioning can explain this preference in recall with children perhaps more exposed to gender stereotypes in the real world (more male fire fighters than females). Therefore this may have nothing to do with schemas at all.
  • Further support comes from Bradbard et al (1986) who found children paid more attention to information they assume is related to their in-group. 4-9 year olds were told gender neutral items were assigned to be either male or female related items. The children were seen to show the greatest interest in items that they were told related to their gender as well as recall more information on these in-group items one week later when questioned. This highlights how gender schemas may affect memory, particularly when it comes to organisation of information. However a criticism here is that children may be easily influenced and led into believing they are mean’t to play only with the items described as “for them” due to their own gender through researcher bias. Therefore this may not have anything to do with gender schema’s affecting recall as they would then naturally recall the items they were “led” to play with the most.
  • A criticism however is there is some evidence to suggest gender development may be evolutionary or innate rather than cognitive. Eisenberg et al found that 3-4 year olds appeared to act in gender typical ways before they had developed gender specific schema’s for their in-group. The children justified their choice of gender specific toys without referring to gender stereotypes suggesting a possible evolutionary or biological explanation. Schaffer even suggested that the development of gender schema’s may work in the opposite direction in that their own and other peoples behaviours lead to the development of gender schema’s. Gender schema theory may be seen as reductionist in comparison to Kohlbergs theory as that gives a more holistic explanation combining social learning theory and biological developmental factors to explain gender development.
  • Gender schema theory cannot account for this nor explain the role of prenatal hormones and how they influence gender development either and therefore biological factors are completely ignored. Evidence suggest they do play a role and the cognitive element may in turn be a result of genes driving thoughts.
  • Gender schema theory can be seen as deterministic in assuming boys and girls will always display behaviours consistent with the perception of their own gender. There is research to suggest this does not always happen with Campbell et al finding 2 year old children displayed no preference over gender specific toys despite having knowledge on their genders in-group behaviours and attitudes.
  • Ruble et al proposed a means of unifying Gender schema theory and Kohlberg's theory suggesting gender schema and gender constancy may be two different processes. Gender schemas may be responsible for the organisation of information and thus affect memory while constancy may be related to motivation e.g. once a child realises their own gender is permanent they may be motivated to learn and adapt to this role. Ruble et al tested children aged between 4-10 years old and found memory (organization) for gender typical pictures increased with age which supported Gender schema theory. They also found preference (motivation) for same-sex toys increased as gender constancy increased supporting Kohlberg's theory too. Therefore a unified approach may be better suited and Gender schema theory alone may be reductionist in explaining development.
  • Gender schema theory predicts that as a child's schema develops they should begin to display behaviour consistent with their own gender which is true for most cases. However research by Campbell et al found that 2 year old boys and girls with a high degree of gender knowledge did not display any preference for gender specific toys which undermines Gender schema theory.

Psychodynamic Explanations of Gender Development

The AQA A-level specification states you need to know the following for the psychodynamic explanation of gender development:

  • Freud's Psychoanalytical Theory including the Oedipus complex; Electra complex; identification and internalisation.

Freud's Psychoanalytical Theory

The psychoanalytic theory of gender development is based on the work of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).

Freud believed that conscious behaviours were motivated by unconscious drives with the structure of the mind consisting of the id, ego and super-ego to make up the three components of an individuals personality.

Freud believed defence mechanisms such as repression existed to protect the ego (the conscious self) from anxiety-provoking thoughts by repressing the thoughts into the unconscious mind.

  • The ego, which is based on reality, has to balance the unreal opposing demands of the id, which is constantly seeking selfish pleasure.
  • The super-ego, on the other hand, is constantly seeking to be morally perfect.

The psychodynamic explanation also proposes the psychosexual stages of development where the life force (libido) is focused on different parts of the body. the psychosexual stages include the oral stage, anal stage, phallic stage, latent stage and genital stage. It is theorised that after these stages, the personality is formed with the key stage in relation to gender development being the phallic stage.

According to Freud, during the phallic stage, which occurs between the ages of three and six years, the child's libido is focused on his/her genitals. The child's gender identity is subsequently resolved during this stage either through the Oedipus complex in boys, or the Electra complex in girls.

Freud believed children experienced an unconscious conflict as they progressed through the psychosexual stages of development. In the first two stages, the organ stage and anal stage, a child is perceived to be bisexual as their gender identity does not exist at this stage and there is no visible differences in behaviour between boys and girls.

When a child enters the phallic stage however, which is between 3 and 6 years old, the child's libido (life force) is seen as increasingly focused upon it's genitals and it is during this stage the child's gender identity develops through either the resolution of the Oedipus complex for boys or the Electra complex for girls.

Oedipus Complex

The Oedipus complex occurs in the following stages:

  1. Boys desire their mothers and at the age of three or four, they become aware of their sexuality and desires for their mother and sole attention.
  2. Boys will then see their fathers as a rival for their mothers love and wish their fathers dead. This wish creates an anxiety and fear of castration which are subsequently repressed.
  3. The Oedipus complex is eventually resolved as the boy begins to identify with his father and it is through identification with the father that the boy internalises his fathers gender identity and forms his own.

The gender identity and identification with the father leads to masculine behaviour as young boys take on the attitudes and expectations of their father.

Electra Complex

The concept of the Electra complex was proposed by Carl Jung (1913) whose ideas were influenced by Freuds psychoanalytical theory.

Similar to the Oedipus complex, the Electra complex is concerned with the conflict between the child (in this case, a girl) and their same sex parent (their mother) and assumes they are in competition for the opposite-sex parent (the father).

Freud previously proposed a similar theory which he called the feminine Oedipus attitude which occurred as follows:

  1. The young girl is initially attracted to her mother but this ends when she realises that her mother doesn't have a penis and subsequently blames her mother for her own lack of a penis. As the child believes she was castrated, she experiences penis envy as it is a symbol of male power.
  2. The girls sexual desire are then transferred to the father.
  3. The complex is resolved when the girl converts her penis envy into her desires to have a baby, and this reduces the anger towards her mother. This allows the girl to then identify with her mother and take on the gender behaviours associated with being a female.

Freud believed the end resolution was a less satisfactory result for girls when they identified with their mother. The reasoning for this was Freud believed there was little reason to identify as a woman as they had a lower status (at the time) and therefore could not understand why anyone, even a female, would want to identify with them.

Evaluating Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory

There are a number of criticism levelled at the psychoanalytic theory of gender development.

Freuds entire psychodynamic theory was based on a case study of a single 5 year old boy in Vienna referred to as 'Little Hans' (Freud, 1909). Hans had developed a fear of horses which Freud had interpreted as a result of him repressing his desires for his mother. Hans developed a love for his mother and wished his father dead. This led Hans to have a fear of castration from his father because his mother had told him his penis would be chopped off if he asked her to touch it. Hans associated this concept of touching with words he had overheard when a man told his daughter not to touch a horse because it might bite her. This led Hans to associate his fear of castration with horses, and according to Freud, express this fear of castration as a fear of horses.

Resolution of this issue came when he came to identify with his father which helped him overcome his fear of castration and no longer wished him dead.

Other support comes from Levin (1921) who reported on the cases of 32 mentally ill patients that were diagnosed with manic depression. Psychoanalysis resulted in a diagnosis of 22 of them suffering from an unresolved Electra complex or penis envy, with 12 having regressed into the earlier psychosexual stages of development. This suggested a link between unresolved unresolved stages of gender development and later mental health issues.

The most obvious issue here is Freuds psychodynamic theories are based on a single case study that looks to be completely subjectively interpreted to fit the idea of the Oedipus complex. Hans father who provided Freud with the details of Hans behaviour was believed to be an avid supporter of Freud and therefore clearly biased. Therefore even if Hans fit into Freuds psychoanalytical theory perfectly, there is no evidence to suggest this is universal in any way.

Freud's theory, as well as any others that are derived from its concepts are fraught with problems of subjective interpretation and selective reporting. For every bit of evidence that supports Freuds interpretation, there are also alternative interpretations available too. Another major issue is Freud's psychoanalytical theory lacks any predictive validity. For example, according to the Oedipus complex, child would have difficulty acquiring gender identity if they lived in one-parent families or where both parents were of the same sex. There is no evidence to support this and research by Patterson (2004) found children in such situations develop much the same way regardless of whether they have lesbian parents or gay parents.

The other clear issue with Freud's theory is the clear gender bias for which he has faced criticism. Many people have rejected the idea children are sexually active when so young as well as Freuds idea that inferior female development is due to penis envy. Freud himself admitted that he did not understand women which suggests his theories, not only struggle to be applied to men but to women. Other reinterpretations of Freud's theory, in particular by psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1966) suggested the concept of penis envy was symbolic for the envy of male power within a male dominated society which is likely to make more sense.

That said, there are some similarities between Freud's Psychoanalytical Theory and Gender Schema Theory which has more scientific basis and makes better predictions. The theory also opened up interest into psychology to consider what might be happening within a persons mind and the idea of repressed desires or feelings which can be linked to the development of models such as the cognitive model. It is however generally accepted by most modern psychologists as having no basis or falsifiable way to evidence.

Social Learning Theory as Applied to Gender Development

For Gender, the AQA A-level specification states you need to know the following:

  1. Social learning theory as applied to gender development.
  2. The influence of culture and media on gender roles.

Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura proposed social learning theory in the 1960s as an explanation for how children and subsequently adults learn new behaviours. The general concept of social learning theory can then be applied then for a variety of behaviours, even gender role development.

You will see social learning theory used to explain other concepts as it will pop up for various other explanations, even how aggression is learnt for example.

Children first observe the behaviour of others around them and also the consequences of the behaviour through a process of vicarious reinforcement (observational learning). When children witness examples of gender related behaviour at home, in school, as well as the television and media, they come to understand the consequences of such gender behaviours and what is appropriate behaviour within the world around them through observing the outcomes.

Thus, through observation, they learn whether such behaviours are worth repeating or not through this process of vicarious reinforcement.

While vicarious reinforcement is crucial, it is important the behaviour they are observing is conducted by individuals they can identify with, i.e. male or female. Therefore girls will be more likely to replicate the behaviours they see performed by other girls and women where as boys will learn about appropriate behaviour from other boys and men. Through a gradual process of immersion, children take on the parents gender schemas.

The information about reinforcements for given behaviours by models is then stored as an expectancy of future outcomes. When the appropriate opportunities arise that may warrant the previously observed behaviour, children will behave in the same way through imitation provided the expectation of reward for engaging in the behaviour is greater than the expectation of punishment.

The gender specific behaviour is maintained by the child if they get what they perceive to be a reward. This can be a desired outcome, praise or any other consequence from the gender specific behaviour they perceive to be a benefit for engaging in it. Rewards are therefore direct reinforcement for the gender-related behaviours and make it more likely that they will be repeated in the same or similar situations when they are thought relevant to apply.

Direct reinforcement is therefore vital to increase their confidence and efficacy in engaging the behaviour. If a boy see's another boy dressing as a female and be rewarded for it through attention and they perceive this to be a desired reward, they may try this themselves. However, if the boy tries it only to be criticised or punished due to disparaging remarks, this will reduce the likelihood that the behaviour will be repeated.

Another way in which social learning theory is applied to gender development is through direct tuition. While children learn about indirect and direct reinforcement, they also explicit (direct) instructions they are given about appropriate gender specific behaviours. Direct tuition begins once children learn linguistic skills and serves as a way of informing children about what is appropriate or inappropriate behaviour based on gender styles.

Bandura believed that once children have internalised gender appropriate behaviours, they are no longer shaped by environmental forces or external rewards or punishments. Instead, Bandura suggested that they direct their own behaviour in a process called environmental determinism. This is regarded as a key element of social learning theory and the active role children have in their observational learning.

Social Learning Theory Evaluation

There is evidence to support of the concepts of Social Learning theory. Bandura formulated Social Learning theory through his Bobo doll study (Bandura et al, 1961) and this demonstrated the effects of an adult model on children's aggressive behaviours and these have also been replicated for gender. For example, Perry and Bussey (1979) showed a group of children aged eight and nine, film clips that portrayed boys and girls selecting fruit such as an apple or pear, both of which were gender-neutral items. When the children were later given the choice of selecting fruit themselves, they chose fruit they had observed their gender model choose in the film clips. So boys selected the fruit they had seen the boys select while girls did the same as their female models. This demonstrated how children will imitate behaviours they observe in gender-appropriate models.

A criticism of this study however is the children only modelled same-sex behaviour provided it was not in counter to their own gender stereotype (e.g. a man wearing a dress). It therefore seems that modelling behaviour is limited to existing stereotypes.

Other research suggests peers have the biggest influence on gender appropriate behaviour. Maccoby, 1998) argued that peers were the prime socialising agency of gender development although they may be less influential in the early stages of childhood when important aspects of the childs gender development is occurring. It is therefore possible that later in childhood, peers do not necessarily create gender stereotypes but play the role of reinforcing existing ones while parents tend to exert greater influence when the children are younger.

A major criticism of social learning theory as an explanation for gender development is there is too much emphasis on social process without acknowledgement of the role of biological elements such as genes and hormones. For example, testosterone during prenatal development is believed to masculinise the brain that predisposes individuals to certain behaviours (more aggression for example). Cross-cultural studies also suggest there are universal traits among how men and women behave supporting the role of biology in gender roles. Buss (1989) found that men and women desire the same universal things in potential partners cross-culturally with men seeking attractiveness and women seeking resources. The fact that there are universal similarities suggest biology is exerting an influence in shaping gender behaviour which social factors then simply refine.

Cultural Influences on Gender Roles

When we think about what 'culture' actually means, we realise this refers to the rules, customs, morals, values and childrearing practices that bind a particular group of people together. 

The effect culture has on people can be seen in the way gender expectations vary from one culture to another. If gender was biological in nature, then differences in cultural influences around the world would have little influence on gender development. If however, different cultural influences results in significant differences in gender roles between cultures, this would then infer gender to be a social construct.

Examining historical changes we can also see cultural differences in gender roles. For example, in the UK, women continue to perform most domestic duties and occupy less powerful positions within society. This gender difference is however decreasing, which supports the role of changing cultural influences (Alleye, 2011).

One of the most significant studies into cultural difference when examining gender development was conducted by Margaret Mead (1935). Mead examined social groups in Papua New Guinea and found evidence of cultural gender role differences. Arapesh men and women were gentle, responsive and cooperative while the Mundugumor men and women were violence, aggressive and power and position seeking. The Tchambuli displayed gender role differences with women the more dominant, impersonal and managerial whereas the men were more emotionally dependent.

Evaluating Cultural Influences On Gender Roles

Mead's (1935) research demonstrated how cultural differences influenced gender roles however there is opposing evidence too from the role biology plays. Eagly and Wood (1999) argued that the biological and thus physical differences between men and women allowed each to perform certain tasks more efficiently. Childbearing and the need to nurse infants mean women are better placed to care for young children but less able to take on roles that require significant absence  from home. Men have the advantage of greater speed and upper-body strength which facilitates performance based tasks that require bursts of energy and strength. In addition to this, according to social role theory, in societies where strength or physicality is not required for occupational roles outside the home and/or societies where there is alternative care available for children, gender roles would be more similar between males and females.

When examining evidence regarding cultural differences, this may be flawed. For example, observing from one particular culture may record behaviours in another culture and 'see' things differently to the indigenous population my projecting their own understanding on what they think is going on. Another issue is that the indigenous population may simply tell researchers what they want to hear and this was in fact a criticism that Freeman (1984) levied towards Mead's research, suggesting her findings were not valid. Freeman had worked with native Samoans who reported that they had created a false picture of their behaviour, although this account has also been criticised (Appeal, 1984).

Conducting cross-cultural research is fraughtt with problems of imposed epic, where researchers will use methods and tools relevant and applicable to their own culture, but alien and non-applicable to other cultures. This can result in flawed conclusions being drawn from the findings. The issue here is many replications of Western cultural studies in other cultures have involved an imposed epic. 

As gender stereotypes and gender roles are broadly consistent across the human population, this seems to suggest gender is primarily a biological construct rather than social or cultural.

A better explanation for how culture influences gender development may be that they are better understood from an interactionist point of view. For example, gender roles may be biologically constructed and then later influenced by social influences such as culture. This would in turn explain the basic cross-cultural similarities in gender roles and gender stereotypes, but also why there is such cross-cultural variety.

It is worth noting that Mead (1935) later would change her beliefs and accept gender roles were predominantly biological in nature. This change is view, according to Booth (1975) occurred after Mead married a man with traditional views and had her own child. This suggests significant researcher bias as her original views seemed to have had a strong effect on the conclusions she had previously drawn. This is supported by Errington and Gewert's (1989) study of the Tchambuli people and the lack of gender role reversals Mead had previously described in her study involving them.

Media Influences On Gender Roles

Media is also another way in which the culture of a population is expressed. 

Media portrayals of men have seen them generally shown to be independent and directive, pursuing both engaging occupations and leisure activities. Women, on the other hand are often portrayed as dependent, unambitious and emotional (Bussey and Bandura, 1999).

Men are shown to be exerting control of events while women are shown to be more at the mercy of others (Hodges et al, 1981). Other studies into gender portrayals in advertisements have found women are portrayed as more flawless and passive then men (Conley and Ramsey, 2011).

Research by McGhee and Frueh (1980) also found that higher exposure to differential gender representations tended to display behaviours that were more stereotypic of gender roles when compared to light viewers. During their longitudinal study over 15 months, they found children aged 6-12 years who watched more than 25 hours per week held more gender-stereotype perceptions than those who watched 10 or less, with this being particularly true for male stereotypes.

Applying social learning theory to media influences on gender roles, the media does more than simply model stereotypical behaviours but also informs viewers on the likely outcomes for those behaviours for both males and females. When observers see similar behaviours succeed, it raises their own beliefs about their own capabilities (self-efficacy) to engage in such. When they see failure from behaviours, this produces self-doubt about ones own ability to engage in such.

The media can also be used to counter stereotypes. For example, Pingree (1978) showed commercials with women in non-traditional roles and this reduced gender stereotypes. This has since led to pressure on programme makers to use this research evidence to work to reduce gender typical representations.

Evaluating Media Influence On Gender Roles

Isolating the effects of media influences on gender stereotypes is incredibly difficult given almost all accessible children for studies watch television. Therefore there are rarely control groups with which to compare to for comparison apart from the rare communities in isolated parts of the world where there is no television.

Williams (1975) conducted a study in the 1970s where one community in Canada without television access were identified and studied. Due to the high mountains, they were unable to receive a television signal and this presented an opportunity to study the effects on their behaviour and attitudes prior to the installation of television and post-installation through the use of questionnaires that assessed gender stereotypes. This town was code-named Hotel and an additional two towns were also studied, one town with only one Canadian channel (code-named Unitel) and another town that had access to multiple American channels (code-named Multitel).

Williams found that the views of children in Notel had become significantly more sex-typed 2 years after the installation of television. He also found that the children in Notes and Unitel had weaker sex-typed views than the children in Multitel who were exposed to more American channels. This was particularly the case for the girls and demonstrated the significant influence media can have on peoples perception of gender roles.

A major criticism of this type of study is it is merely correlational evidence and does not necessarily indicate television is the cause of such attitudes. It could be that those with pre-existing gender stereotypes simply watch television a lot more to confirm their own innate stereotypes. Also, the influence of media on gender development may be exaggerated as significant gender development occurs before the age of four when media influences are weaker. It may therefore be that media influences reinforce existing gender beliefs rather than create them.

Atypical Gender Development

The AQA A-level specification requires you to know the following for Atypical Gender Development:

  • Biological explanations for Gender Dysphoria (Gender Identity Disorder)
  • Social explanations for Gender Dysphoria (Gender Identity Disorder)

Biological Explanations of Gender Dysphoria

A number of theories have been proposed for Gender Dysphoria, also known as Gender Identity Disorder, but what is this?

Gender dysphoria is a psychiatric condition where a person feels uncomfortable with the gender assigned to them from birth. Alternative descriptions you may have heard of this condition include gender identity disorder, transexual or transgender although this does not include intersex conditions nor is it related to homosexuality where men and women are happy with the biological sex assigned to them.

Gender dysphoria affects both males and females although males outnumber the females by a ratio of 5 to 1 (NHS, 2012).

Transsexual Gene

One potential biological explanation for gender dysphoria looks at potential genetics being the cause. Hare et al (2009) examined the DNA of 112 male to female transexuals and found they were more likely to have longer versions of the androgen receptor gene compared to a 'normal' sample of people.

The effect of this genetic abnormality was the males had reduced action of the male sex hormone testosterone and this may have impacted gender development in the womb as testosterone is linked to the masculinisation of the brain in men.

Brain-Sex Theory

Brain-sex theory is another biological explanation for gender dysphoria. This theory assumes male and female brains are different and those suffering from gender dysphoria have brains that do not match their biological sex. One area of the brain that has been studied is the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc) which is located in the thalamus. 

The BSTc is on average twice as large in heterosexual men as in heterosexual women and contains twice the number of neurons. Brain-sex theory proposes that for people with gender identity disorder, the size of the BSTc correlates with preferred sex rather than biological sex. Supporting evidence comes from two dutch studies (Zhou et al, 1995 and Kruijver et al, 2000) both of which found that the number of neutrons in the BSTc of male to female transsexuals was similar to that of the females. In contrast, the number of neutrons in a female to male transsexual was found to be within the male range.

Phantom Limb and Cross-Wiring

Phantom limb and cross-wiring is another biological explanation offered for gender dysphoria by neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran (2008). Ramachandran highlighted how people who have limbs amputated often report they still feel like the limb is there, often feeling itches in the limb or attempt to pick things up with the missing hand. The explanation for this is the part of the brain that received input from the amputated limb is taken over by a different part of the body, such as the cheek. 

When applying this to gender dysphoria, the theory proposed by Ramachandran and McGeoch (2007) is that the image of the sex organs is innately hardwired into the brain in a manner that is opposite to the persons biological sex. Therefore, in cases with males with gender dysphoria, they feel they should not have a penis and some females feel they should have one. It is estimated that two-thirds of female-to-male transsexuals report the sensation of a phantom penis or phantom erections from childhood onwards.

Hormonal Explanations For Gender Dysphoria

Hormonal explanations for gender dysphoria propose that for males to develop, the right about of testosterone needs to be released during the third month of pregnancy from the newly formed male testes, with an additional release between the period of two and twelve weeks after birth.

These hormonal surges are required to occur at the right time and insufficient amounts being released prevent masculinisation of the infant to occur. Therefore, if this process is not carried out successfully, perhaps due to a disorder in the mothers own endocrine system, maternal stress or illness that might interfere with hormone levels, gender dysphoria may occur. Applying this hormonal explanation to females, a similar process may occur with oestrogen release.

Evaluating Biological Explanations for Gender Dysphoria

Brain-sex theory has been criticised heavily by Chung et al (2002) who highlighted that the differences in BSTc volume between men and women did not occur until adulthood. Most people suffering from gender dysphoria report that their feelings began in early childhood (Lawrence, 2003). This would suggest the differences found in BSTc could not be the cause and actually an effect.

Additionally, Huslshoff Pol et al (2006) found that undertaking transgender hormone therapy actually influenced the size of the BSTc and the individuals in the dutch study had been receiving this. The hormones received may have therefore caused the difference in transsexuals such that their brain sex was more similar to there gender identity rather than their biological sex.

Support for cross-wiring comes from Ramachandran and McGeoch (2007) who drew reference to comparisons between gender dysphoria patients and those without the disorder. When such individuals have had surgery to remove sex organs (e.g. for cancer), around 60% of those without gender dysphoria who had to have penile amputation experience phantom penis compared to 30% of those with gender dysphoria. This suggests there was no wiring to a penis representation in the brain in the first place. Similarly, when examining female-to-male patients, only 10% reported to experience phantom breast sensations after surgery to remove breasts (Ramachandran and McGeoch (2008). 

Supporting evidence for genetics and a transsexual gene forms from Hare et al (2009). This study examined gene samples from male gender dysphorics and 'normal' people. A correlation was found between those with gender dysphoria and variants of the androgen receptor gene implying this gene was involved in a failure to masculinise the brain during development within the womb. This supports a potential biological cause for gender identity disorder.

Increasingly, the evidence is pointing towards the influence of hormones and genetics as the cause of gender dysphoria but to date their is little evidence to explain a totally biological explanation. It is possible that other interacting psychological factors are also at play and what kind are required to influence the disorder, as well as the actual genetics at play.

This area of research is incredibly socially sensitive and has potential consequences for sufferers. If a biological cause is found then this may help members of society be more accepting towards the disorder as they may accept it is not really their fault they feel the way they do. Equally, if a psychological cause is found, it may be seen as a choice and such individuals stigmatised. Regardless, the outcome of any research as social consequences for individuals represented by the research.

Social Explanations For Gender Dysphoria

Social explanations for gender dysphoria suggest the disorder is caused by socialisation or learned behaviour, for example through operant conditioning (where individuals are rewarded for exhibiting cross gender behaviour).

Many young children 'experiment' with gender role behaviour, for instance boys may wear frocks or jewellery or girls may pretend to be 'dad' when playing games that imitate parents. Learning theory explanations propose that parents may have encouraged such behaviour thus reinforcing the condition. Such encouragement from the family may then contribute to the conflict experienced between anatomical sex and acquired gender identity.

Social learning may also play a part with gender dysphoria being learned through observation and imitation with individuals modelling cross-gender behaviour as they perceive rewards from such i.e. through attention from others.

Other explanations have proposed that gender identity disorder is related to mental illness which in itself is linked to some childhood trauma or maladaptive upbringing. Coates et al (1991) presented a case study of a boy who developed gender identity disorder and proposed this was a defensive reaction to his mothers depression following an abortion she had. The trauma is said to have occurred at the age of three, when he was particularly sensitive to gender issues. The suggestion by Coates et al is that this trauma may have led to a cross-gender fantasy as a means of resolving the anxiety experienced. 

Another explanation explores the mother-son relationship as a possible cause. Stoller (1975) proposed gender dysphoria was the result of distorted parental attitudes as clinical interviews of gender dysphorics displayed an overly close and enmeshed mother-son relationship. The explanation here is this may lead to a greater female identification and confused gender identity.

Zucker (2004) offers a similar explanation for females through the father-daughter relationship. The suggestion here is that females identity as males because of severe paternal rejection in early childhood and unconsciously they think that if they become males, they might gain acceptance from their father.

Evaluating Social Explanations For Gender Dysphoria

Support for social explanations for gender dysphoria comes from a study by Zucker et al (1996). 115 boys that had concerns about their gender identity were studied along with their relationship with their mother. 64% were diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder along with gender dysphoria compared to 38% whose symptoms were subclinical. This suggests a link to some kind of disordered attachment to the mother as a factor however this only explains male-to-female transsexuals.

Conditioning experiences may explain why more children than adults are identified with gender dysphoria. It may be that because early life experiences are dominated by the family, where cross-gender behaviours are tolerated or even encouraged influence the diagnosis when young. It may therefore also be that as they grow up and people outside the family exert an influence, prejudice, bullying or even stigmatisation that prevents them gaining employment, prevents people from expressing such a disorder as they opt to hide it.

There is some evidence to suggest people grow out of the disorder, potentially due to social factors. Zucker at al (2008) conducted a longitudinal study on gender dysphoric females and found that of those referred to a clinic between the ages of 2 and 3 years old, only 12% of females were still gender dysphoric as adults. Only 20% of males were still gender dysphoric, again supporting the idea that the majority of people seem to grow out of this and this may be due to social influences.

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