The terms nature-nurture debate in intelligence was concerned with the role of genes and the environment in determining measured intelligence which has inevitably centred on disputes about nature versus nurture. “During the nineteenth century, the relative effects of heredity (nature) and environment (nurture) on the development of intelligence suggested that heredity (that is genetic inheritance) or environment that is usually defined as all the experiences an individual is exposed to from the time of conception. Subsequently, this issue developed into probably the most controversial and divisive debate to be encountered in psychology”. Galton, 1869, pp. 496) A gender role is a set of expectations that prescribe how males and females should think, act and feel. Although there are various approaches to explaining gender development, which are not reciprocally exclusive the effects of socialization, i. e. your parents and your norms, values and culture are social learning hypothesis, however, the changes in way a child thinks is the cognitive-developmental approach that suggested the biological factors which includes the psychoanalytic and evolutionary approaches.
However, gender refers to the psychological characteristics associated with being male or female, whilst gender identity generates gender behaviour – behaviour like a male or female which depends on knowledge of ‘gender role’. For example, parents may encourage more traditional feminine behaviour in their sons by saying, ‘you look like a girl in that shirt or discourage the same in their daughters. (Smith and Lloyd, 1978, pp. 1263-5)
At the same time, deviance in any society suggested that gender stereotypes portrayed in the media have a powerful influence on all of us, but especially on children who are acquiring their gender concepts. Moreover, a stereotype is a fixed, often simplistic picture of a group of people where cultural attitudes are communicated through a stereotype; for example, the image of a woman doing the washing-up is a stereotype that communicates an expectation about gender role in our society. (Williams, 1985, pp. 263-87)
It has been said that development is about how the ‘biological’ infant turns into the ‘social’ adult. Throughout the history of psychology, there has been a tradition of separating out ‘heredity’ and ‘environment’, ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’, ‘biology’ and ‘society’ in attempt to explain how a child develops particular qualities and capacities. It is now generally accepted that development occurs through an interaction of biological factors (genetic programming) and social factors (the quality of the environment).
This is by no means a simple proposition. There are two ways in which this interaction could be considered. On the order hand, we could look at the skills a child is born with and watch how these skills develop and are influenced by particular experiences as the child matures. This is the general approach taken by those who have studied perceptual development and language development. Alternatively, we could look for ways in which the same environment might have different effects on children who are born with different characteristics.
One important approach of this kind has involved the study of vulnerable children which has starting life with a particular handicap such as premature birth of ‘difficult’ temperament. The ‘resilient’ child will start life with a particular advantage, such as a sunny disposition. (Horowitz, 1987, pp. 3-18) At the same time, the study of how individuals develop a gender role or sex role has been a central concern of developmental psychologists for many years.
Gender role development has been an important focus of debate within the major theories of psychology, and is a frequent target of the nature-nurture controversy which refers to rigid beliefs about what males and females are like. Numerous studies have identified characteristics which can be said to form stereotypes of males and females and there appears to be strong agreement between them. One example is a study carried out by (Spence et al, 1975, pp. 29-39) in which the researchers used an instrument known as the Personal Attributes Questionnaire with large samples of college men and women.
Some of the characteristics attributed to males and females were as follows: Males Females Independent Emotional Assertive Warm to others Aggressive Creative Dominant Excitable Like maths and science Feelings easily hurt Mechanical aptitude Need approval However, the term sex and gender according to the above illustration by Sir Spence simply means the term used to denote biological or genital aspects of being male or female and the term usually used to refer to psychological or cultural aspects of males and females. Furthermore, the study of gender role development is beset by a promulgation of similar confusing terms.
The term sex and gender are defined in many ways as synonymous and are often used as such. Thus, different researchers may refer to ‘sex role’ or ‘gender role’ as mentioned above, which mean essentially the same thing – behaviour considered by society to be appropriate for males and females. For the reason that, the term ‘sex’ has a number of meanings and is usually associated with biological/genital differences, there has been a trend towards using ‘genital’ to refer to the psychological/cultural aspects of maleness and femaleness. Huston, 1983, pp. 1-17) Simultaneously, the gender identity refers to people’s perceptions of themselves as either masculine or feminine. Early research into gender identity and suggested that nurture shape gender identity and tended to place a high value on sex-typing. An important aim of the research was to look for ways of helping males and females to acquire appropriate sex-typed attitudes and behaviour in order to promote their psychological well-being.
Masculinity and Femininity were seen as representing opposite ends of a continuum, and it was assumed that an individual would exhibit either masculine characteristics or feminine characteristics, but not both. More recently; Bem (1974) and others criticized this bipolar approach, claiming that both so-called masculine and feminine characteristics may develop in the same individual. For example, a person may be both assertive (a characteristic generally associated with masculinity) and sensitive to the needs of others (thought of as a feminine characteristic) and still function ffectively. Well, the term sex differences in behaviour, due to many studies that have attempted to discover whether commonly held beliefs about the characteristics of men and women are borne out by the way in which people actually behave. Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) investigated over 2000 studies of sex differences in personality or intellectual abilities, comparing studies which reported statistically significant sex differences with studies which did not find the statistically significant differences.
Both of them reported the existence of sex differences in only four areas: aggressive behaviour and mathematical, spatial and verbal abilities. For example: From the age of around eight or nine, girls score higher than boys on test on verbal ability, whereas, boys perform better on mathematical and spatial tasks from puberty onwards; at the same time, boys are more physically aggressive than girls. This difference is evident at all ages from about two years on, and across many different cultures.
Besides, this is well documented that people tend to react differently to boys and girls on the basis of their, often stereotyped, expectation of masculine and feminine characteristics. According to (Rubin et al, 1974, pp. 54) parents were asked to describe their new-born babies. Even though boys and girls were very similar in health and in size and weight, boys were generally depicted as more alert, stronger and better coordinated than girls. Girls were described as smaller, softer and less attentive than boys. This can easily creates gender bias in everyday life. (Matlin, 1993, pp. 72)
Moreover, age discrepancies may be due to the methods used to test the children’s understanding above, but as with all stage hypotheses, there are some disagreements about the actual ages when the changes take place, although the sequence is not contested when pre-school children were shown drawings where gender inappropriate changes in hairstyle or dress have been made, very few of them were able to recognize that gender remains the same despite the changes, but if they were shown photographs of real children, first in the nude with sexual anatomy visible, and then dressed in gender-inappropriate clothing, almost half the 3- to 5-year-olds knew that the child’s gender had not change. (Bem, 1989, pp. 649-62) In this case, to investigate the relative importance of gender dependability and self-evaluation, preschool children were asked whether they would feel ‘happy’ or ‘unhappy’ if they play with a number of same-sex or opposite-sex toys; in order to give examples of how nature and nurture may play a role in the development of gender identity. The findings were as follows: “Both boys and girls between the ages of three and four showed approval for same-sex behaviour.
By the age of four, boys were very happy to play with dump trucks and robots, but not comfortable with dolls and kitchen sets. Girls’ preferences were the opposite of this. Across a number of tasks, children’s judgements of their own preferences and likely behaviour (self-evaluation) served to predict gender linked behaviour, whereas gender constancy and gender knowledge did not. This concluded that, early in life, children learn the sanctions against opposite-sex behaviour and start to organize their own behaviour accordingly. (Bussey and Bandura, 1992, pp. 63, 1236-50) In a nutshell, we have seen the nature-nurture evaluation was concerned with the role of genes, stereotypes and environment in determining measured theories.
Much of the research discussed has served to highlight the complexity and, some would argue, the futility, of trying to unravel the relative contributions of each. Consequently, psychologists are now much more likely to be concerned with addressing the question ‘How do heredity and environment interact? ’ which they have used the concept of norms and culture reaction in relation to the question of how heredity and environment may interact. Whilst the explanation sees genetic structure as imposing a top and bottom limit on an individual’s potential behaviour. Where within this range the individual behaviour will fall too determined by the kind of environment experienced within the boys and girls.
Besides, the difficulty of assessing genetic potential and the interaction with various environments is the usefulness of ‘norm and culture reaction’ which at present limited. Moreover, recent developments in genetics suggest that genetic structure is more flexible than had been thought. Rigid upper and lower limits may not exist. Nonetheless, until more conclusive evidence is available, it serves to remind educationists and social policy maker of the complex interaction between heredity and environment and the need to ensure that all individuals receive the best possible environmental conditions. It may also encourage researchers to develop more searching studies of the social and educational practices which might reduce the way of reasoning between males and females.