Sex: In Psychology, sex is the classification of being male or female. It is biologically determined (caused by chromosomes and hormones), is fixed and cannot be changed, and is innate (due to the influence of nature only).

Gender: This is the psychological sense of feeling masculine or feminine. It is influenced by psychological and social factors, the role of nature and nurture play a part, and is more fluid and open to change (it is more of a sliding scale, whereas sex tends to be a binary choice of male or female). Gender can be changed through gender reassignment surgery.

Gender identity disorder: Most people’s sex and gender correspond (e.g. male-masculine). However, some experience feelings of a mismatch between biological sex and psychological gender. This is classified as gender identity disorder (referred to as gender dysphoria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Some individuals with GID decide to have gender reassignment surgery and become transgender.

Sex-role stereotypes: These are expectations/pre-conceived ideas of what is ‘typical’ male and female behaviours. These may change from time to time and between (and within) cultures, and are communicated in many ways, for example through parents, at school, in the media, and so on. For example, females may be expected to be caring, empathetic, emotional and nurturing, whereas males may be expected to be competitive, ambitious, aggressive and less emotional.

Gender, figure 1

Androgyny & the BSRI

Androgyny: This is the psychological state of possessing a balance of male and female psychological characteristics. For example, a man may possess the emotional skills to be caring, but also is competitive and ambitious. This is thought to be advantageous, as the person can respond appropriately to many different situations in life. When necessary, they can be empathetic, and when another situation demands that they are competitive, they can do this as well. Androgynous people are argued to be more mentally healthy.

The BSRI: Sandra Bem (1974) devised a way of measuring the extent to which a person is androgynous. She created a list of behaviours and characteristics, 20 of which could be classified as ‘masculine’, 20 ‘feminine’, and 20 ‘neutral’ (not particularly associated with either gender). Participants would indicate how true the statement was for them personally on a scale of 1 (never true) to 7 (always true). Masculine behaviours included ‘aggressive’, ‘ambitious’, ‘dominant’, ‘assertive’. Feminine behaviours included ‘affectionate’, ‘compassionate’, ‘gentle’, ‘sympathetic’. Neutral behaviours included ‘adaptable’, ‘sincere’, ‘helpful’, ‘truthful’. A high score for both the masculine and feminine items indicated androgyny in the participant.


  • When it was piloted, the results of the BSRI broadly matched with the participant’s own reported sense of gender identity, suggesting the BSRI is a valid measure of gender.
  • It has been argued that androgyny may not be the most beneficial thing for mental health, and that having more masculine traits is more advantageous, challenging the assumptions of Bem.
  • Assessing a person’s sense of gender by completing the BSRI reduces the complex concept of ‘gender’ to a series of numbers, therefore not reflecting the reality of gender. Also, the BSRI may be culturally and historically biased, as certain behaviours are seen as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’, which may not be true of all cultures at all times.

The Role of Chromosomes & Hormones

Key Terms:

  • DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid): self-replicating material, located in cells of the body, which is the carrier of genetic material
  • Genes: short sections of DNA that determine the characteristics of a living thing
  • Chromosomes: objects found in the nucleus of most cells, made from DNA
  • Hormones: Chemicals that travel around the body affecting the activity of cells and organs

Chromosomes: Each person has 23 pairs of chromosomes. Each of these pairs carry hundreds of genes containing instructions on physical and behavioural characteristics. One pair of chromosomes are called the sex chromosomes, because they determine an individual’s sex. The female chromosome pair is called XX because both chromosomes are shaped like X’s. The male chromosome pair is described as XY. The Y chromosome carries very little genetic material although it does determine the sex of the child. There is a direct link between an individual’s chromosomal sex (XX or XY) and their external genitalia (vagina or penis) and internal genitalia (ovaries and testes). During prenatal development all individuals look the same – and embryos have genitalia that externally looks feminine. When the foetus is about three months old, if it is to develop as a male, the testes produce testosterone which causes external male genitalia to develop. Biology explains how an individual acquires their sex genetically. It may also explain some aspects of gender because people feel ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ in part because of the genitalia they have.

Gender, figure 1

Hormones: Chromosomes initially determine a person’s sex but most gender development is actually governed by hormones. They are produced both prenatally and in puberty. Hormones influence the development of genitalia and/or affect the development of the brain, both of which influence gender behaviour. The effects of particular hormones are as follows:

  • Testosterone: a male hormone, which develops the male sex organs and is linked with behaviours such as increased aggression
  • Oestrogen: a female hormone which develops female sexual characteristics and is linked with emotional changes during the menstrual cycle (for example, increased irritability)
  • Oxytocin: a hormone which facilitates bonding. It is released in large doses after childbirth, making the mother feel a strong emotional connection to their baby. It is produced in lower quantities in men, but in equal amounts in both sexes during sexual intercourse

Hormone Imbalance During Development

Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome: Where a genetic male is not exposed to enough testosterone in the womb, and can look physically female at birth. This happened to members of the Batista family in the Dominican Republic- some male family members appeared female at birth, and were raised female, but once hormonal changes in puberty occurred that physically turned into males, and changed to living as males.

Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia: Where a genetic female is exposed to too much testosterone. Genitalia can appear swollen, and they may act more masculine (tomboys).


  • The case of David Reimer supports the role of chromosomes and hormones. David was born as Bruce, and, when taken to be circumcised as an infant, accidentally had his penis burnt off due to an electrical malfunction. Psychologist John Money worked with the parents, suggesting that ‘gender’ is entirely created by upbringing and the environment, so Bruce was renamed ‘Brenda’, was castrated, and raised as a girl for the first years of life. However, the case was not successful and Brenda, feeling suicidal, was told the truth when a teenager. Brenda immediately changed back to living as a man, calling himself ‘David’. This case shows how the influence of nature overrode the influence of nurture.
  • Van Goozen et al (1995) found that when injected with male or female hormones, transgender individuals demonstrated more typical male or female behaviours (in line with the hormones they were receiving). This supports the link between hormones and gender behaviour.
  • Tricker et al (1996) found that there were no differences in behaviours amongst participants injected with testosterone or a placebo, weakening the link between hormones and gender behaviour.
Discuss the role of chromosomes and hormones in sex and gender. (16 marks- 6 outline- around 3 paragraphs; 10 evaluate- around 3-4 evaluation points)
Your answer should include: XX / XY / Physical / Development / Testosterone / Reimer / Behaviour

Atypical Sex Chromosome Patterns

Gender, figure 1

Klinefelter’s syndrome: This is where there is an abnormal chromosome pattern in males, where there is an extra X chromosome (‘XXY’). 1 in 500 to 1 in 1000 males are affected. The effects of this include:

  • Reduced body hair
  • Breast development
  • ‘Soft’ body contours
  • Long limbs
  • Underdeveloped genitalia
  • Poor language/reading skills
  • Passive and shy
  • Poorer memory/problem-solving skills

Turner’s syndrome: This is where there is an abnormal chromosome pattern in females, where there is only one X chromosome (‘X’). Around 1 in 5000 females are affected. The effects of this include:

  • No menstrual cycle
  • Broad chest and webbed neck
  • High waist-to-hip ratio
  • Physically immature
  • Higher reading ability
  • Poorer spatial, visual, maths ability
  • Socially immature


  • Atypical sex chromosome patterns lend support to nature in the nature-nurture debate, suggesting behaviour is affected by biological influences. This is helpful to understand gender behaviour more generally.
  • Environmental influences may cause the behaviours, for example, females with Turner’s may be treated more immaturely due to their childlike appearance. This weakens the link between chromosomes and gender behaviour.
  • There are beneficial practical applications in studying these individuals, are diagnosis can be made more readily and hormone treatments can be used to reduce the effects of the conditions.

Cognitive Explanations: Kohlberg’s Theory

Gender, figure 1

Cognitive theories suggest cognition (‘thinking’) has an impact on gender behaviour, emphasising that environmental factors and brain development influence cognition and cognition influences gender behaviour. Thinking about gender alters as a child’s cognitive capabilities develop, and a child’s sense of their own gender is critical in the acquisition of gender behaviour. Kohlberg suggested that children’s sense of gender develops over three stages, which are gone through gradually.

Stage 1: Gender identity (2-3 ½ years): Children have the ability to correctly identify themselves and others as male or female, although labelling is based more on appearance than reality, e.g. a child might label a man with long hair ‘a girl’. Gender may change over time or situations.

Stage 2: Gender stability (3 ½-4 ½ years): Recognition that the child’s own gender will not change over time (if they are a girl they will grow into a woman). However, children may believe that other people’s gender can change in different situations, e.g. they may believe that if they see a boy putting on a dress that boy will become a girl.

Stage 3: Gender constancy/gender consistency (6-7 years): The child recognises that gender is independent of clothing/hair and so on, and gender is constant over time and situations. At this point, Kohlberg believed that full gender understanding has developed and children become interested in, and manifest, gender typical behaviour. Children in this stage are no longer egocentric (think that everyone sees the world in the same way they do) so can appreciate that other’s thoughts and feelings are different to theirs.

Role models: Once they reach gender constancy, children will begin to seek same-sex role models who they will identify with and wish to imitate. They will not do this before this stage, as they think that ‘gender’ is still something that could change.


  • Slaby and Frey (1975) asked young children: ‘were you a little girl or a little boy when you were a baby?’ and ‘when you grow up will you be a mummy or a daddy?’. Children did not recognise that these traits were stable over time until they were 3 or 4 years old, supporting the predictions of the theory. In another study, they found children in the gender constancy stage spent longer looking at same-sex adults, supporting the idea of role models.
  • There is evidence that children may acquire a fixed sense of gender before age 6-7- Bussey and Bandura (1992) found that 4 year-olds reported feeling ‘awful’ about playing with gender-inappropriate toys. This weakens the prediction of Kohlberg’s theory.
  • There are methodological issues with interviewing children to investigate cognitive theories. Children may not have the vocabulary to adequately express what they are thinking, therefore it may not be a valid way of investigating cognitions. This weakens the evidence for Kohlberg’s theory.
Outline Kohlberg’s theory of gender development. Refer to the item above in your answer. (6 marks - around 3 paragraphs)
Your answer should include: Gender / Identity / Constancy
Jane is 7 years old, and is talking to her younger brother John, who is 3. She asks him, ‘when you grow up, what job do you want to do?’ John replies, ‘I’m not sure. If I’m a boy, I might be a policeman or a doctor. But if I’m a girl, I might have to take care of the children.’ Jane responds, ‘don’t be silly, you’ll always be a boy!’ Outline Kohlberg’s theory of gender development. Refer to the item above in your answer.
Your answer should include: Gender / Identity / Constancy