Describe the Evolutionary Explanation of Gender Development Essay

Describe the evolutionary explanation of gender development Evolutionary psychology is based on the ideas that our behaviour is influenced by our instincts left over from our evolutionary past. These behaviours were adaptive to increase the chances of survival and reproduction. Natural selection is the idea that the individual who is best adapted to the environment will survive and pass on their genes. Sexual selection is the idea that species have developed specific behaviours and physical characteristics because these features allowed their ancestors to be more successful in attracting a mate.

Sexual selection can explain why in some species such as human males and females look and behave differently. Evolutionary claims that gender differences through a model of hunters and gatherers with males and females taking on different roles in the group. Females would take on the role of nurturing and gathering and this would explain behaviours such as women being more empathic and better communicators. Males would take on the hunter/protector role and thus they have evolved to be more aggressive.

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This links into the biological model which demonstrates the role of testosterone in males in increasing aggression. The theory is that testosterone levels have evolved to be higher in males due to their role of hunters and that this is what causes their increased levels of aggression. For example evidence by Beeman showed that castrated male rats became passive but when injected with testosterone they reverted to high levels of territorial aggression. However much of the research on testosterone is based on animal studies such as that by Beeman.

The research is comparative and thus may not be generalisable to humans. Humans are not only capable of rational thought but also it can be seen that mouse behaviour is driven much more by instinct than humans, who seem to be more dependent on social learning. This suggests that although testosterone may still play a role with humans it is unlikely to have such an absolute effect. Gender differences in sexual behaviour can be best explained through Parental Investment Theory. This suggests that the differences between males and females are due to their level of investment necessary to raise viable offspring.

A male, therefore needs to only invest an hour whereas a female will need to both carry and breast feed the child for up to 3 years. Thus, the theory argues that men have evolved to be more promiscuous and women to seek long term relationships and commitment in order to help raise their children. Evidence by Clark and Hatfield shows that men are much more likely to agree to a casual sexual encounter (75%) than women (0%) showing that women are not motivated purely by sex but by relationships instead.

It has also been shown that women are more upset if a partner falls in love with another woman whereas men are upset by a partner being sexually unfaithful (Buss). This suggests that the behavioural differences in men and women have evolved due to their differing needs in terms of ensuring parental investment needs. There are some methodological problems with the research by Clark and Hatfield and Buss. Firstly, there is the issue of social desirability. Women in society are strongly discouraged from having casual sex and conditioned against it through words such as ‘whore’ and ‘slut’.

Thus they may always want to appear to be less interested in casual sex and so the results of the study may be due to this rather than sexual preference. Secondly, the reason that women say no in the Clark and Hatfield study may not be due to a lack of interest in promiscuous sex but instead to the learnt danger of being alone with a strange man also they do not wish to have sex outside of committed relationships. There are also some general problems with the evolutionary explanations of gender differences.

Firstly, many feminists have concerns about these theories which have been created by predominantly male psychologists and could be used to reinforce a conventional role for women in society (i. e. the stay at home mother). Furthermore, it seems highly reductionist to suggest that all men are motivated by having maximum sexual partners. It is clear that almost all societies have a concept of marriage and it seems also apparent that many men may prefer one specific female over 10 random women.

This suggests that it is not as simple as men wanting to maximise their sexual experiences. It seems instead that many men are happy to live predominantly monogamous lives. It also seems that both men and women are sometimes motivated to ‘cheat’. Thus the relationship between gender and sexual behaviour may be more complex than the parental investment theory suggests. Finally, there is the issue of nature and nurture.

The evolutionary explanation suggests that gender differences such as aggression and sexual behaviour are innate and uses evidence such as Clark and Hatfield to support this. However, Margaret Mead’s anthological studies show wide differences in gender roles in different cultures. This suggests that a purely evolutionary explanation would be invalid. A Biosocial approach seems most sensible here with pre-existing sex differences being interpreted by our culture and certain behaviours being thus encouraged in certain genders.


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