Theories on Gender Development

There are several theories on gender development that explore the explanations for gender specific behaviour, the most common of which: biological approach, psychoanalytic theory, social learning theory, cognitive developmental theory, gender schema theory and biosocial theory.
The biological approach suggests that gender identity is initially preconceived due to various biological factors. Chromosomes, XX in the female and XY in the male, determine the outcome of the gonads and also the hormones (Gilbert, 2000). Hines, 2004, believes the biological theory is suggesting that future gender behaviour of children and eventually adults is already determined before the baby is born though genetic make-up, which is made up of chromosomes, gonads and hormones (citied in Gross, 2010).
According to Dr John Money, founder of the ‘Layers of Sex’ model and researcher of gender identity, humans are born with various types of sexual, biological “layers” that coexist and create a clear pathway which provide an insight into the biological theory of gender. The model consists of the following attributes: chromosomal sex, indifferent fetal (the American spelling of ‘foetal’) sex, differentiated fetal gonadal sex, fetal hormonal sex, fetal internal reproductive sex; these are the initial prenatal and infant layers of sex (cited in Fausto-Sterling, 2012). In short, the model explains the very earliest biological stages of gender development, starting with chromosomes, which due to secretions of hormones form the biological foundations of gender. Money believes that they have an impact on an infant’s own perception of their gender identity; babies become aware of their body image, according to his theory. The outcome of this biological process is established gender identity as an adult. Though Money created a basis for the understanding of biological development of gender, his theory is difficult to support and therefore lacks empirical evidence. It’s very difficult to obtain evidence that prenatal gender development and gender development during infancy can effect a person as an adult. This notion of Money’s theory also lacks ecological validity because babies and young children are usually constantly surrounded by gender specific colours (pink for girls, blue for boys), toys and behavioural expectations such as cooking, cleaning and maternal tasks for females and career, DIY and paying the bills for males. It could be argued by believers of the social learning theory that these influences from a young age effect our gender identity throughout our life. Money’s Layers of Sex model has social and biological limitations; it doesn’t account for the gender identity of an intersex child and it therefore fails to explain how their gender identity would develop. The model suggests a clear, defined link between each layer that then creates a person’s gender identity, there is no acknowledgment of external input from our social influences, or any biological differences in our genetics. Furthermore, Money and his colleague, Anke Ehrhardt believe that gender identity is fixed by the age of 2, again this is difficult to prove with scientific evidence and it’s difficult to rule out the impact that external sources have on our behaviour (cited in Fausto-Sterling, 2012).
Initially, the same psychologist, Money, who devised the biological ‘Layers of Sex’ model believed that gender identity was learned through social influences; he fully supported the SLT. He made an error when dealing with a victim of a surgical mishap that resulted in baby Bruce Reimer’s penis being burnt off during circumcision in 1966 (Cited in Colapinto, 2000). The results of which would later be psychologically damaging to Bruce; Dr. G.L Adamson, head of Neurology and Psychiatry at the Winnipeg Clinic explained that Bruce could psychologically suffer during his adolescence to his entire adult life. Adamson gave thee insight that Bruce would never be able to have a normal, heterosexual sex-life. Bruce’s parents contacted Money who agreed to help them, he was raised as a girl and renamed Brenda. Brenda claimed that he was never happy as a girl after he found out his true gender at the age of 14. Brenda played with boy’s toys and never felt comfortable behaving or dressing as a girl. When Brenda was told of his true gender he changed his name to David and became a boy. David Reimer’s despair of being raised as the wrong gender and having no male sex organs led to his suicide at 38 years old (cited in Colpinto, 2000). This tragic story supports the biological theory of gender because it suggests that although Bruce was raised as a girl and given girls clothes and toys, he never felt right, and he never felt happy. No amount of social influences could change how Bruce/David felt about his true gender identity which means that Money’s SLT theory wasn’t correct in this case and thus doesn’t bode well that social influence alone can alter a person’s gender identity.
Another theory is the social learning theory (SLT) which regards gender identity as behaviour that is learned by watching and copying authority figures and peers. It is believed that parents perhaps unknowingly promote gender specific behaviour in their children.
However, despite this discouraging evidence, Margaret Mead’s research argues that social learning theory is valid in disadvantaged cultures. Mead’s expedition of three tribes (Arapesh, Mundugumor and Tchambuli) in New Guinea began in 1931 (Mead, 2001- research originally published in 1935), her study was on the social influences of these tribes throughout their life. Mead’s observations concluded that generations followed the behaviour learned from childhood; they adopted the nature of their parents and grandparents. The Tchambuli tribe was said to be peaceful in nature, however, what is unusual about this tribe is that their gender roles are reversed, women have a more dominant than men. These in depth observations convey that biology played no part in gender behaviour, all behaviour was learned through socialisation and therefore this supports the SLT.
There are many more studies that credit or discredit these two theories, however, they are both shown to be important factors of gender identity. A combination of the two theories as an explanation of why we assume our gender role makes more sense than one or the other, this theory has simply been named the biosocial theory which literally combines the two theories. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason that causes gender identity but it’s fair to assume that because children learn through copying and through praise that the SLT theory is an important factor, furthermore, the tragic case of Bruce Reimer conveys how important biology alone was to his gender identity.


Chapter 32: Early Experience And Social Development.

I’m going to start writing notes and answering questions in my blog…it’s a good place to keep all my work.


Phases in the development of attachments

Stage one – No attachment – 3 months
Stage two – Recognition – Smiles more to familiar people and less to strangers – 3-7 months
Stage three – Seperation anxiety from mother and ‘fear of strangers’ 7 – 8 months
Stage four – Multiple attachment phase, more accepting of other family members (the mother being the only previous attachment before) and of other children – 9 months +


‘Cupboard love’ theory

(Freud’s theory) The infant only becomes attached to the mother because she provides it’s requirements.

Harlow’s and Zimmerman’s studies challange the ‘cupboard love’ theory. Using monkeys as the subject in their studies to convey that infants (monkeys) have attachments to objects (fake mothers) that don’t provide food.

(Lorenz) Goslings create an attachment to the first moving object that they see (often the mother) This attachment occurrs through perception alone rather than from being provided with food.

How relevant are Harlow’s and Lorenz’s findings, with rhesus monkeys and goslings respectively, to understanding human attachments?

Although an argument could be made that both of the species could be different from human infants regarding the concept that they’re only attached to the mother because she provides food, humans are much more intellectually advanced than monkeys and Goslings. Considering that humans are more advanced than monkeys and require attachments later in life I think this is the first stage of emotional attachment, the infant needs its mother to provide food, but also wants her there for comfort. Harlow’s and Lorenz’s findings help us to understand human attachments because they provide evidence that animals need mothers or mother figures for more than food from the earliest stages of life, thus humans innate desire should be no different.


I haven’t wrote in this blog for a while, I guess that would be lack of motivation and focus to do so. But recently I knew what I needed to do. I have a career path. A really difficult one, but it would lead to a life that I’ve always wanted. A good career and a flashy car on my drive. I also want to help people, it’s important that I do that considering how my life has been. But I know what I need to do. First I have to get my undergraduate psychology degree and whilst doing that I need to get plenty of work experience, I’ve started to email nursing homes and asked if I could do some voluntary work, it’s the perfect place to start and could maybe lead to a part time job…I’d be around people with mental issues, but nothing major. Some univeristes require extensive work experience, basically I can’t get a doctorate without it…which seems odd to me, since studying and grades should be put above simple work experience, alas I shall jump through all the hoops in the world to make my life better. So, work experience and undergraduate degree then a doctorate in clinical psychology. I could change my mnd on which doctorate I want, I have changed my mind recently; originally I wanted to do a doctorate in counselling. It should take about 8 years… When I think of the amount of years, my goal seems impossible to reach, so I need to take a more relaxed approach…in the sense that I work hard now and allow myself to be okay with not having a career for a long time.

So I’m going to continue my projects on here. (For anyone reading this) I’ve probably mentioned before that I only make basic observations.  I’ll probably answer questions from my psychology book, mostly and occassionally write about anything that relates to my progress.

Evolution of Psychology

Corresponding to my previous post, I’ve found a question that would work well in my essay; From an evolutionary perspective, what advantages do you think self-consciousness might have conferred on human beings?

A little insight about my career path.

Okay, so I don’t have full knowledge of how I’m going to get my desired career. So far it looks like this; One year of college- Access to HE, Three years of Psychology at undergraduate degree level, then a masters degree, although I don’t know how many years that is, then possibly an extra course, PhD again I don’t yet know how long that is. Then after this I think I’ll be fully qualified. At the moment I see myself as a counselor, I’d be working for the NHS most likely. It’s a tough choice really, I’m interested in Forensic Psychology and also Clinical. But I think I’ll stick with Counselling unless I realise I’m better in other areas. I’ve also been thinking about my final project for university which is ‘The evolution of Psychology’ It’s something I think about quite a lot, everything within Psychology changes over time. People change, treatments change, the world around us changes so that everything is more advanced. I already know that there would be so much to write for this project; criminal Psychology, how it’s changed, Psychology itself, theories, controversies, experiments etc. Although I like this idea, I don’t like the thought of delving deeply into the history of Psychology, I don’t want it to be more about history than Psychology…


I’m starting college very soon, which I’m dreading and excited about. After an extremely dull and unproductive gap-year, I’m happy about being busy and being passionate about my work. I have a few important aims that stand out in my mind at the moment; getting a grade A on my first Psychology essay. This is important because I’ve been anxious about my ability with such a complex subject. Another aim is graduating, I have this expectation of getting the desired results at univeristy, feeling relieved and celebrating with people that I care about over a bottle or two of champagne. And my final major aim is getting a PHD and having the title; Dr. This last one is a long way off, I know that…but this thought will motivate me. Everything I’m going to work for is to reach the highest level in Psychology, my whole life is about to be dedicated to my career. To be honest, this is something to be very nervous about . This year I’m giving up my social life, happiness and money to complete my first step to having my dream job. Soon I will be using this blog account to store my college essays, and this will continue throughout my education. It’s like a record of my progress. I like knowing that a few people have access to it, it’s nice knowing that these few are enabled to see my progress and effort. However the only person who will be truly proud of my work, sadly is myself, but if you think about it, that’s all that matters, right? I’m doing all of this for me, so I’m okay with that. Although I’d like to think that one day my family and friends can benefit from my career. I’d love to take my mom on holiday and buy nice things for the rest of my family. Having said all of this, I’ve realised that I’m getting ahead of myself…I don’t even know if I’m good at Psychology, right now this scares me more than anything.

A Few Thoughts.

I’m always trying to find anything that will define me and my personality. I think I’ve always had a slight phobia of having little character. So following through on my own interests is of high importance. Yet put on the spot to give an insight on myself and who I am is always difficult. Maybe you have to take the time to learn about yourself and your own views but I dislike the thought that people who know me wouldn’t know what to say about me. Although I think people are too concerned with themselves to think much about others, mostly people know you because they have to or for convenience, so maybe what other people think shouldn’t matter so much.

I’ve never really done much with my life and always hated feeling unhappy with my everything and who I am. So I over-think everything, which fortunately is probably a good attribute to have considering my potential career. At the age of 19 I need to stay focused. Not so long ago I was attending college doing a course that I adored, yet I wasn’t focused. This time it has to be different. If I ever want to achieve I need to put a lot of effort in. My college work and university work has to be perfect. Even if that means having no social life, no fun and limited time to do anything I enjoy, I have to stay focused. It’s for the greater good.

The future is important to me. I do like to live life to the full, although, sadly I probably never do; I’m too busy worrying. So yes, I’m a negative person. Where my negativity originates from, I’m not entirely sure. It’s just always there. The future is always a concern because there is so much to have and gain and no reassurance of if you will achieve anything at all. There is also a more specific and obvious reason that I should address; my parents have never been very encouraging and neither have maintained any decent career and therefore any decent lifestyle and my modesty warns me that I’ll be the same unless I do things differently. I want to go into Psychology and as I previously mentioned, I want to find an area of it that defines me. This is why I’m already thinking about my final project at undergraduate degree level, this is approximately four years into my future. The final project for Psychology at university is usually to do your ‘own’ work that conveys your views, concerns and individuality. I could currently name several topics for such a project, yet I still won’t be satisfied until I’ve only one idea in mind, one idea that enthralls me and captures my absolute interest. I’m already excited about starting this project, I’ve never been a perfectionist but I want this to be a masterpiece.

Having interests and hobbies that define me is not only a relief but a burden because then others are aware of what is important to you. I feel like if I wasn’t intelligent enough or dedicated enough, that people would look down on me and I would feel great shame. I can only hope that I’m good at what I love and I know that this hope is all I have…

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