Sex and Psychology - Biological Factors Involved in Gender Identity

Biological Factors Involved in Gender Identity

An ongoing debate in psychology is the extent to which gender identity and gender-specific behavior is due to socialization as opposed to genetic factors. The mainstream view is that both factors play a role, but the relative importance of each is contentious.

Because of the pervasiveness of gender roles, it is difficult to execute a study which controls for the influence of such socialization. Individuals who are sex reassigned at birth offer an opportunity to see what happens when a child who is genetically one sex is raised as the other. The largest study of such individuals was conducted by Reiner & Gearhart on 14 children born with cloacal exstrophy and reassigned female at birth. Upon follow-up between the ages of 5 to 12, 8 of them identified as boys, and all of the subjects had at least moderately male-typical attitudes and interests, however these tests were not double blind as the parents (and often the subjects) knew the biological sex of children they were raising. The procedure of sex reassignment and vaginoplasty on intersex children assigned to be females also changes their experiences in ways not analogous to typically developed females, including vaginal dilatation by parents on toddlers (routine widening of the vagina through insertion of a device), and testing of clitoral scar tissue for sensation by doctors.

Girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia and thus exposed to high androgen level during pregnancy play more with boy toys and less with girl toys.

One study showed that at birth girls gaze longer at a face, whereas suspended mechanical mobiles, rather than a face, keep boys' attention for longer, though this study has been criticized as having methodological flaws.

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