The Effects of Hormones and Behavior on Gender Identity

The effects of hormones and behavior on gender identity PSY 340 February 14, 2010 The effects of hormones and behavior on gender identity The formation of gender identity is not completely understood as it is much more complex than just getting a sperm and egg cell to join; an XX or an XY genotype is only the first part in gender identity. There are many biological, psychological and sociological factors involved. The biological includes chromosomes, gonads, prenatal hormones, internal accessory organs, external genital appearance. The psychological includes assigned gender role and gender identity.

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The sociological could come from family, mass media and society (Kenyon, PhD, 2006). Sammons (2007) states that biological psychology observes that biological processes form gender identity. John Money a well-known behavioral psychologist first proposed the idea of “connection between biological and environmental factors in determining sexuality, arguing that social expectations interacted with an individual’s genes to affect hormone expression and thus sexuality” (John Money, 2011). The first biological factor affecting gender identity is the chromosomes that are in every cell of the body.

Both parents contribute one half of the genotype; the mother or female supplies the X and the father or male the X or Y, the determining gene that gives gender its first definition (Board on Health Sciences Policy & Committee on Understanding the Biology of Sex and Gender Differences, 2001). The sex of the embryo is formed at the moment of conception however there are seven weeks where the embryo has no sex; both the XX and XY embryo develop in the same way. It is during the sixth week that the testes and ovaries are formed; testosterone, or the lack of, starts the embryo on a separated path, one being male and the other female.

The changes made at this time have organizing effect that will be activated later during puberty Before puberty occurs the fetus is influenced by testosterone and estrogen, in boys the testosterone levels can be as much as ten times higher than in girls. At the end of the pregnancy fetoprotein, which has protected the brain from estrogens, is in decline. This decline allows estrogens from the placenta which inhibit “the hypothalamus-hypophysial-gonadal axis of the developing child”.

This inhibition loss causes a peak of testosterone in new born boys and estrogen in new born girls. Researchers think that these peaks of testosterone in the fetal and neofetal stages fix “the development of structures and circuits in the brain for the rest of a boy’s life” (Swabb & Hofman, 1995). Puberty brings higher levels hormones which activate the circuits and behavioral patterns that were set during development; in males this means development in a more masculine and defeminized direction and more feminized, demasculinized direction for girls.

Swabb (1995) states that these differences in brain development are thought to be the base of gender identity,” the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender: and gender role,” behaving as a man or a woman in society. ” Looking at the case of the “Boy raised as girl discovers happiness as a man” Kenyon (2006) discusses the fact that a newborn boy had his penis cutoff during a circumcision, so he was raised as a girl, including surgery to make female genitalia, “John became Joan”. “At 12, she was given oestrogen therapy to complete the conversion to a woman.

She grew breasts, but was never accepted by other girls, nor felt comfortable as a woman” (Kenyon, PhD, 2006). At the age of 14 she stated that she felt like a boy since she was in the second grade. Later the breasts were removed and male hormone therapy help make the change back into a man. Hormones are only one part of the process for developing gender identity. Psychological and sociological factors that influence gender identity are the other side of the debate of nature versus nurture. One of the first questions parents ask during pregnancy is “what sex is the baby? This question starts the sociological influence on the embryo that will never stop until death. Sammons (2007) states that “In early intrauterine development male and female external genitalia (visible sex organs) are identical” and exposure to dihydrotestosterone the male genitalia will develop and its absence female genitalia will. Society then tells the child how he should act. Brenbaum (1999) “has shown clear differences in activities and job interests between adolescent boys and girls. But gender role behaviours[sic] may be influenced by the media. Male adolescent gender role activities according to Berenbaum (1999) include working with engines and electronics, playing or liking football, hunting, washing or waxing the car, playing sports, fishing, and basketball. Female adolescent gender role activities such as thinking about becoming a secretary, needlepoint, going to slumber parties, collecting dolls, trying out for cheerleading, playing dress-up, and playing with make-up. These activities are not programmed into males and females at conception but by the society and the mass media.

Parents tell boys to be tough and brave, not to cry or play with dolls; girls are told to be gentle and lady-like, not to play with trucks or play rough sports. Hollywood also perpetuates this idea but making movies with helpless women and tough guys though there are some cross-over changes but they show the men and women negatively accepted by their peers. Looking over these two ideas of nature versus nurture or hormones versus sociological influences I would say that it is both.

I can see how the hormones can play a large role in the development of the basic structures and fundamental circuitry of gender role and gender identity, but family and society, especially nowadays with mass media at your fingertips, influence gender roles and gender identity equally. Boys look up to their fathers or other masculine figures in their lives and girls do the same but with the female roles. I am living in a Latin society and the gender roles and gender identity roles are strong. Women here teach the young girls their positions in society as soon as the girls care walking.

Many of the toys that young girls get are household toys to emulate duties in the future and are taught to “look good” for the men and to care for the shape or they cannot get a good husband. Men in this society teach the young boys to play sports “to be manlier” and to stare at the women and think about going to the university to get a good job so that his family will be taken care of. Both of these ideas are heavy weights on those that don’t or can’t comply as the society makes fun of, especially those that are in the media, for being different; so most try not to be different.

I think humans need to relax about these roles and allow children to be children and to find their own way to gender identity, after all I wouldn’t mind my wife earning more money and I stay at home to cook and clean. This idea of nature versus nurture is an ongoing debate however biopsychology may bring new ideas to prove one side or the other. The case of “Boy raised as girl discovers happiness as a man” is an example of biopsychology showing that the biology and hormones play a bigger part then researcher thought.

Most of the new research on gender identity and gender roles is coming from the psychology side; transgendered or gender identity disorder. These individuals are giving more data to researchers as they look to understand the biopsychological reasons for the gender confusion. “Historically, the terms sex and gender have been loosely, and sometimes inappropriately, used in the reporting of research results” (Board on Health Sciences Policy & Committee on Understanding the Biology of Sex and Gender Differences, 2001).

Research in the past has been on animals and the speculated to humans; this is changing as studies are now focusing on correlational approaches, one where looking for the relationship between hormone levels and behavior (Sammons, 2007) Research is also studying the “differences in the structures of the human hypothalamus and adjacent brain structures” (Swabb & Hofman, 1995) as it relates to gender and gender problems such as heterosexuality, homosexuality, transsexuality and sexual orientation. Although these observations have yet to be confirmed, and their exact functional implications are far from clear, they open up a whole new field of physiological structural-functional relationships in human brain research that has so far focused mainly on such relationships in pathology” (Swabb & Hofman, 1995). There is still much debating going on but more research studies are available as society is lessening it restrictions and attitudes on sex and sexuality. References Berenbaum, S.

A. (1999). Effects of early androgens on sex-typed activities and interests in adolescents with congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Hormones and Behavior, 1(35), 102-110. Board on Health Sciences Policy, C. , & Committee on Understanding the Biology of Sex and Gender Differences, C. (2001). Exploring the Biological Contributions to Human Health. Does Sex Matter? Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Kenyon, PhD, C. A. (2006). The Nature and Nurture of Gender. Retrieved from

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