The Biosocial TheoryMoney & Ehrhardt

Biological sex + social labelling and differential treatment = gender role behaviour and gender identity.

The Biosocial Theory suggests that gender is determined by the combination of biological and social factors. This produces either masculine or feminine gender behaviours and identities. The theory also suggests that it is the perceptions of biological sex which leads to gender identity. A newborn baby which is labelled as male is likely to adopt to the behaviours of its associated gender. Gender is socially constructed and therefore differs across time periods and cultures.

The theory is supported by empirical evidence. Bradley et al (1998) reported on a case of a biological male who, after accidental damage to his penis, had reassignment surgery and was raised as a female. This individual preferred female company and, as an adult, perceived herself as female and was happy that way. This supports the biosocial theory because the biological sex of the case study’s subject was an extremely important factor on determining their gender identity. The theory therefore is high in internal validity because it is suggested that the theory can accurately explain gender development.

Bradley et al’s study is prone to a methodological weakness. The study was a case study; it was only carried out on one individual. Due to the fact that the study only focuses on one individual, it may not accurately depict gender development in others. This lowers the internal validity of the theory.

The Biosocial Theory is supported by further empirical evidence. Smith and Lloyd (1978) dressed babies in gender-neutral clothing, then labelled them with either a boy or a girl’s name. It was found that people would play with them in different ways according to their gender label. Boys were treated in a more physical manner, whereas participants were more gentle with girls. This supports the biosocial theory and increases its internal validity as it shows that the gendered name (which heavily implied the sex of the baby) determined how participants labelled the child, thereby also affecting how they treated the child. This supports both the biological and social aspects of the theory, therefore indicating that the biosocial theory is correct in its explanations of gender development.

Smith and Lloyd’s study is prone to a methodological flaw. The study was conducted as a laboratory experiment where the babies were dressed in non-specific gender clothes in an artificial setting; the independent variable is not naturally controlled. This decreases the ecological validity of the study as it cannot be applied to a natural setting. Therefore it lowers the internal validity of the theory as the evidence is not sufficient enough to support the biological explanations of gender development.

The Biosocial Theory is challenged by empirical evidence. The case of David Reimer suggests that biological sex is the primary factor which contributes to a sense a of gender. This is because David had developed a masculine brain as he was exposed to testosterone at birth. This lowers the internal validity of the theory as the biosocial theory argues that gender is determined by both biological and social factors, whereas the role of genes and hormones argues that biological factors are the primary contributing factor the the development of gender.

The explanation is more holistic than alternative approaches to gender development due to its acknowledgement of more than one factor in gender development. The theory is high in internal validity because it is logical to assume that gender development is influenced and shaped by a multitude of factors.

The theory, however, could be criticised for being deterministic. The theory does not consider the role of individual differences and free will within the development of gender. The Biosocial Theory can also not be used to explain gender dysphoria. The theory lacks external reliability because it cannot be applied to and used to explain gender development in all individuals.

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