Saturday, May 4, 2013
Gender identity is one’s psychological awareness, sense, or concept of self as either a male or female. As for self-concept, gender identity is the most obvious aspect. Gender identity may be the same or different from one’s anatomic or assigned sex. Anatomic sex is the property or quality that one classifies or bases on reproductive organs and their functions as either a male or female. Consciousness of one’s anatomic sex occurs in most between 18 months after birth to three years after birth. Often one develops a gender identity that matches his or her anatomic sex, although some individuals develop a gender identity that differs from his or her anatomic sex. Biological (nature) and environmental (nurture) factors contribute to gender identity.
Biological Factors – Nature
Normally either X or Y chromosomes (sex chromosomes) in the male’s sperm cell determine gender identity. When a sperm cell contains an X chromosome and fertilization of a female egg occurs the result is a zygote, which is XX or female. When a sperm cell contains a Y chromosome and the fertilization of a female egg occurs the result is a zygote, which YX or male (Rathus, Nevid, and Fichner-Rathus, 2005). However, consistent as it may be, this does not always guaranty that one’s gender identity is biologically. Not everyone is born either male or female. Sometimes one is born either intersexual or as a hermaphrodite. One, who is born intersexual possesses the gonads of one sex but also possesses external genitalia, which are ambiguous of the other sex (Rathus, Nevid, and Fichner-Rathus, 2005). One, who is born as a hermaphrodite possesses both testicular and ovarian tissue (Rathus, Nevid, and Fichner-Rathus, 2005).
Sex hormones also play another role in gender identity. Sex hormones have two different effects over an individual, which are developmental (organizational) effects and activational effects. Developmental effects influence one’s development from the point of conception to sexual maturity of the physiological, anatomical, and behavioral characteristics that distinguish an individual as either a male or female (Pinel, 2009). Activational effects occur by activating the reproduction-related behavior of sexually mature adults (Pinel, 2009). Activational effects occur later in life and after sex organ development. One’s brain development continues into the late teens, therefore the hormone surges of adolescents have both developmental and activational effects.
Behavior and gender identity are also influenced by hormones released by endocrine glands. The endocrine glands include the pineal, hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, adrenal, pancreas, ovary, and testis. The primary function of endocrine glands is the release of hormones, which exerts their effect on target areas, such as other endocrine glands or different nervous system sites (Pinel, 2009). Therefore, one may appear anatomically as a male and identify and behave as a female, and a female may identify and behave as a male because of hormonal influences. The conclusion of scientists and researchers is that complex interactions of biological and psychosocial factors influence gender identity.
Environmental Factors – Nurture
Indeed, X or Y chromosomes (sex chromosomes) determine gender identity however this consistency will not always ensure the biological existence of one’s gender identity. Therefore, even if one is born anatomically a male or female, parents, and caregivers, and influence gender identity, especially if one is born as either intersexual or as a hermaphrodite. Parents and caregivers may choose to raise a child as how he or she sees fit or as how one’s child appears. Gender identity is also influenced by the views of other individuals and society. Stereotypically, society assumes when one appears to be a male the more masculine and less feminine one must be, and when one appears to be a female the more feminine and less masculine one must be. However, this is not always true. It is just a stereotype, and this behavior can influence gender identity.
Specifically, when one is anatomically a male but displays feminine traits and considered feminine by society one may identify as a female.
If one is anatomically a female but displays masculine traits and considered masculine one may identify as a male. Therefore, one considers a male displaying feminine traits of emotionality, tenderness, and nurturance as less masculine as other males, and one considers a female displaying less feminine traits of emotionality, tenderness, and nurturance less feminine and more masculine than other females (Rathus, Nevid, and Fichner-Rathus, 2005). Although when one is highly masculine, is does not matter if he or she is a male or female because he or she can still possess feminine traits, and when one is highly feminine, he or she can still possess masculine traits (Rathus, Nevid, and Fichner-Rathus, 2005).
Nature vs. Nurture
The debate of nature versus nurture is a continuing debate, which has occurred for numerous years. Based on certain beliefs and scientific research believing nature or biology has more of an influence over gender identity, and influences gender identity seems correct. Anatomic sex and hormonal influences play a key role and may be the biggest role in gender identity. When one views himself or herself as either a male or female because of anatomic sex or hormonal influences it is hard to deny. The possibility of nurture or environmental influences playing a role in determining gender identity may occur just as nature or biological influences. However, nature plays the key role in gender identity.
Arguments about Sexual Identity
Biological psychologists have used a wide range of methods to study gender, and the preferred method is normally laboratory experiments, and the use of animals for models to understand human behavioral processes (Sammons, n.d.). Sammons (n.d.), “it is clear from a range of studies involving humans and other animals that chromosomal and hormonal differences between males and females affect a range of masculine and feminine behaviours, which supports the biological view” (para. 7). Although most of this research is correlational, and there is an indication of a relationship between risk-taking and testosterone levels, unfortunately there is no indication of the direction of causality (Sammons, n.d.). Caution should be applied with the research carried out with non-human animals, not to assume the results apply to humans (Sammons, n.d.).
Although one can still generalize from one to the other but each species’ evolutionary history is unique, and the function served by a sex hormone may not reflect the same function in different species (Sammons, n.d.). An example of this is the role oxytocin plays in the formation of pair bonds between female and male prairie voles. Sammons (n.d.) “whilst this (and other evidence) might imply that it is also important in humans it is fair to suggest that the formation of pair bonds in humans is influenced by a range of additional factors including learning and culture” (para. 8). The cross-cultural studies, which find universal features of gender, support the biological view (Sammons, n.d.). Of the cultures studied, females are found to be less aggressive than males, suggesting as innate, biological difference (Sammons, n.d.).
Sammons (n.d.), “similarly, Buss et al (1990) studied what women and men look for in a potential mate in a large number of cultures and found that whilst men consistently prioritized youth and physical attractiveness, women placed a higher premium on wealth and status” (para. 9). The differences seen may reflect the biological differences between males and female, which arise because of the evolutionary processes. However, it is important not to ignore the considerable gender behavioral differences between some cultures (Sammons, n.d.). Cultures do indeed behave differently, which supports the role of learning. In 1935, Mead documented three tribal societies living in proximity to one another to show how different their gender roles varied (Sammons, n.d.). These findings and similar findings suggest that biological factors influence gender behaviors and those behaviors modify learning heavily.
Gender identity is a key aspect of one’s psychological awareness or sense of self as either a male or female. Anatomic sex often determines one’s gender identity, which is a biological factor (nature), however environmental factors (nurture) can influence gender identity as well. Gender identity allows one to develop into his or her identity, and progress in life as such. Research supports both biological factors (nature) and environmental factors (nurture) as the causes for one’s gender identity. Numerous arguments surface about sexual identity however biopsychology provides evidence to resolve those arguments.
Rathus, S. A., Nevid, J.S., and Fichner-Rathus, L. (2005). Human sexuality in a world of diversity. (6th ed.) Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Sammons, A. (n.d.). Psychlotron. Retrieved from http://www.psychlotron.org.uk/newResources/developmental/AS_AQB_gender_BioBasics.pdf