Gender Roles and Sex Differences for AP Psychology

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

Review questions for this study guide can be found at:

Developmental Psychology Review Questions for AP Psychology

The first thing many people ask when they hear about the birth of a baby is, "Is it a boy or a girl?" Gender matters. Gender is the sociocultural dimension of being biologically male or female. We have different expectations for boys and girls. Gender roles are sets of expectations that prescribe how males and females should act, think, and feel. Gender identity is our sense of being male or female, usually linked to our anatomy and physiology.

  • The Biological Perspective. The biological perspective attributes differences between the sexes to heredity. Males have 44 chromosomes, plus sex chromosomes X and Y. Females have 44 chromosomes, plus sex chromosomes X and X. The sex chromosomes determine the anatomical differences between the sexes. The Y chromosome contains the instructions for the growth of male sex organs and synthesis of male sex hormones. Male sex hormones influence brain development. Typically, the female's corpus callosum is larger than males', which might influence lateralization in the brain. Hormonal differences at puberty not only influence boys' greater height, but also their added musculature and more aggressive tendencies.
  • The Evolutionary Perspective. According to the evolutionary perspective, our behavioral tendencies prepare us to survive and reproduce. Males are more likely than females to be risk takers, show dominance, and achieve high status. Females are more likely to be concerned with their appearance in order to attract high-status, protective males.
  • The Psychoanalytic Perspective. According to Freud's psychoanalytic perspective, young girls learn to act feminine from their mothers and young boys learn to act masculine from their fathers when they identify with their same-sex parent as a result of resolving either the Electra or Oedipal complex at about 5 years of age.
  • The Behavioral Perspective. According to (the behavioral perspective) social learning theory, children respond to rewards and punishments for their behavior, and they observe and imitate significant role models, such as their parents, to acquire their gender identity.
  • The Cognitive Perspective. According to the cognitive perspective, children actively engage in making meaning out of information they learn about gender. Sandra Bem's gender schema theory says that children form a schema of gender that filters their perceptions of the world according to what is appropriate for males and what is appropriate for females. Bem acknowledges that social learning contributes to her cognitive developmental theory. Gender role stereotypes, which are broad categories that reflect our impressions and beliefs about males and females, have typically classified instrumental traits, such as self-reliance and leadership ability, as masculine and expressive traits, such as warmth and understanding, as feminine. Rather than seeing masculinity and femininity as alternatives, many psychologists now recognize androgyny, the presence of desirable masculine and feminine characteristics in the same individual.

Set Differences in Cognition

Meta-analysis of research on gender comparisons indicates that, for cognitive skills, the differences within either gender are larger than the differences between the two genders. Males tend to have better ability to perform mental rotation tasks. The only evidence that males show higher achievement in mathematics than females is on the math section of the SAT; females receive higher grades in mathematics courses than males. Recent findings suggest that females who get better grades in high school and college may test more poorly because of a phenomenon known as stereotype threat, anxiety that influences members of a group concerned that their performance will confirm a negative stereotype. According to Claude Steele, when they know that their performance is being compared to that of males, girls tend to do less well than if they are not being compared.

Review questions for this study guide can be found at:

Developmental Psychology Review Questions for AP Psychology

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