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Gender Differences: The Nature Versus Nurture Debate

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  1. 1:09 Nature
  2. 2:29 Nurture
  3. 3:20 Environmental Influences on…
  4. 5:07 Nature vs. Nurture Debate
  5. 5:51 Promoting Gender Equity in…
  6. 6:38 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Melissa Hurst

Are boys better in math and science courses than girls? Are girls better at activities like dance? Gender stereotypes are abundant in society. Are these stereotypes based on real differences or perpetuated opinions? This lesson focuses on gender differences and the influence of nature versus nurture.

Introduction

You are about to hear a list of occupations. I would like for you to think about the first picture that enters your mind when you hear the occupation.

  • Art teacher
  • Scientist
  • Building construction manager
  • Nurse

Did you picture a female when you heard 'art teacher?' Maybe you pictured a male when you heard 'building construction manager.' If so, you are not alone. Gender stereotypes regarding occupations, toys, skills and abilities are abundant.

Gender differences among males and females are real and observed by researchers in many fields. The question up for debate is 'how are these differences initiated?' Does nature (or heredity) drive a specific gender to seek out certain toys, choose activities and pursue careers in gender-specific fields? Maybe it's nurture (the environment) that drives these differences. This lesson will focus on gender differences by exploring the research conducted on nature versus nurture.

Nature

Nature refers to heredity, or traits that are genetic
Heredity
Nature heredity

Researchers agree that heredity determines physiological differences in males and females. Some of these differences are present at birth, and some differences don't present themselves until the child reaches puberty. Heredity causes girls to reach puberty earlier than boys. It also causes boys (once they have reached puberty) to have more muscle composition and be taller than girls in general.

Heredity, or specifically different hormones, accounts for gender differences as well. Boys are more physically aggressive, a trait that has been linked to the increased levels of testosterone in boys. Researchers have also argued that hormones may play a role in the differences observed in visual-spatial and verbal abilities among children. A small difference has been found among researchers indicating boys have slightly higher visual-spatial abilities while girls have slightly higher verbal abilities.

Nurture

Nurture, on the other hand, or the environment, refers to all environmental influences after conception. In other words, how a person is raised drives development. Level of attachment, beliefs, values and how much attention one is given are all examples of environmental influences.

In almost every culture we see practices that promote gender-specific behaviors. The environment and specific cultures foster the idea that behaviors are more appropriate for males and others are more appropriate for females. Think back to the introductory example. If you pictured a female nurse or a male construction manager, why? How were these stereotypes fostered? Gender stereotypes are prevalent and perpetuated by parents, peers, teachers and even the child themselves.

Environmental Influences on Gender Differences

Parents report treating their sons and daughters differently. Specifically, they typically respond more frequently to requests for help from daughters, while sons are usually encouraged to solve problems independently. In addition, many parents encourage gender-typical behaviors by offering gender-specific toys such as dolls for girls and trucks for boys.

Parents tend to help their daughters more and encourage sons to solve problems on their own
Parents Help Girls More

The media can also influence and perpetuate gender stereotypes. TV, movies and books often portray male figures as aggressive and in leadership roles while portraying females as domestic and obedient.

The behavior of peers is another strong influencer of gender stereotypes. Children's playmates and classmates frequently encourage adherence to traditional gender stereotypes by responding more positively to children who play in gender-appropriate ways and more negatively to those who don't. Peers may also ridicule or avoid their peers who enroll and excel in gender-inappropriate subjects.

Teachers also perpetuate gender differences. They tend to give more attention to boys partly because boys ask more questions and present more discipline problems. Teachers also give feedback more to boys than to girls.

Self-Socialization

As young children become increasingly aware of the typical characteristics and behaviors of each other, they begin to form self-constructed schemas, referred to as gender schemas, about the traits and behaviors of males or females.

Because gender schemas are self-constructed, their content may vary considerably from one individual to another. One adolescent female may view other females in the media and construct an idea about the ideal female, while another may have a different picture of 'ideal.'

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