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Gender Identity

Updated on March 10, 2020

Gender Identity

Gender Identity

Sex is biological but gender is psycho-sociocultural. Gender means being male or female and defined by social status, roles and attitudes about the sexes. Specifically, gender is culturally based explanations of male and female behaviors such as careers. Gender identity is defined as perception of oneself (Segall, Dasen, Poortinga, & Berry, 1999). This paper will discuss gender identity to include hormone and behavior interaction. As well as examine psychological, environmental and biological influences on sexual differentiation.

The Interaction between Hormones and Behavior

Studies have shown hormonal processes influence exhibits of hostility. Further suggesting aggression relations could imitate processes of sexual maturation and genetic characteristics. Many of the studies on hormones connect aggression to influences of androgens, specifically testosterone. Hypotheses have been established determining hormones influence degree of aggressive behavior through their effects on emotions. Which results in the antagonistic effects on the expression of aggression, in turn activating influences stem from contemporaneous effects hormones on behavior, but may be affected by earlier organizational influences (Inoff-Germain, Chrousos, Arnold, Nottelmann, & Cutler, 1988).

Hormones and Behavior Interaction Affects on Gender Identity

Hormones are chemicals that combine with programmed cell receptors and respond accordingly. The most critical periods for hormonal effect on humans are puberty and prenatal periods. According to John Money’s studies prenatal hormonal anomalies result in confused sexual identity. The study discovered 25 fetal androgenized girls raised as girls were considered tomboys by their peers. They resembled their male counterpart in attitudes, grooming, achievement and sexuality. Several case studies followed Money’s theories and raised significant questions about genetic and environmental roles in gender identity (Hetherington & Parke, 2002).

Biological Influences on Sexual Differentiation and Gender Identity

Biology’s influence on gender identity has focused on hormonal function and cerebral lateralization. Before humans are born gender is determined biologically. But the gender identified with is based on feminine or masculine characteristics. Hormones and lateralization of brain function are biological factors believed to effect gender distinctions. Hormones linked to sexual characteristics and reproductive functions are found in different levels in males and females from infancy through adulthood. Puberty further triggers the tendency toward a specific gender, normally attractions to people of the opposite sex (Hetherington & Parke, 2002).

Studies using brain imaging have identified blood flow confirm greater bilateralism in females. When both sexes were tested using nonsense rhyming words the left and right sides of the brain was activated in women while the left hemisphere in men was activated. The brain of males is organized reflecting greater lateralization, attributing to male success in mathematical and spatial tasks. (Hetherington & Parke, 2002).

Psychological Influences on Sexual Differentiation and Gender Identity

Four psychological explanations exist to define gender-linked behavior models. Freud theorized using the process of identification, cognitive social learning theory and gender schema theory. While Kohlberg used the cognitive developmental theory in which he stated children use physical and behavior evidence to discern gender roles to gender type at an early age (Hetherington & Parke, 2002).

Freud’s theories about gender identity begin around five years old based on the perception of their bodies. Boys begin to have sexual love for their mothers and rival their fathers for her love known as the Oedipus complex. Boys understand the powerfulness of their fathers and absorb his features. In contrast girls realize the lack of a penis and feel inadequate. Freud believed children come into the world psychosexually neutral and study their same sex parent to learn appropriate behaviors (Bland, n.d.).

Environmental Influences on Sexual Differentiation and Gender Identity

The family is the first environment a child experiences and can have great impact on gender identity. From the time the baby comes home from the hospital they are dressed in gender specific clothing and treated according to their gender. As they grow especially the father has influence on their behavior. Boys are treated rough while girls are protected. An example of the parent’s impact on the gender typing of their offspring is through traditional roles. Boys are influenced more by parental power than girls. Father’s influence on their daughters’ feminity is achieved through their own masculinity and acceptance of her feminine role. The absence of a father upsets the gender typing in pre-teen males as well as relationships with the opposite sex for females. The father’s absence affects girls throughout life including marriage decisions (Hetherington & Parke, 2002).

Influences outside the family affect choices in gender identity as well. Fairytales and children’s books, television, movies and music portray stereo-typical gender roles. Children who watch television regularly are more likely to have traditional gender related roles influencing their decisions.

Greatest influence on Gender Identity

Environment, biology and psychology influence gender identity almost equally. Environmental factors influence more than the others. The classroom defines the role of the students based on gender, expecting more of boys in the area of science and math than girls. Upon birth males and females are treated differently by their parents. As the children mature television further establishes the role expected of them based on their sex at birth.

If a father figure is missing throughout the child’s development identity is impacted. Girls are effected so deeply that the absence influences’ choice in marriage partner.


Bland, J. (n.d.). Freud, the Father of Psychoanalysis. Retrieved January 31, 2009, from

Gollnick, D. M., & Chinn, P. C. (2009). Multicultural Education in a Pluralistic Society (8th ed.). : Pearson Merrill.

Hetherington, M., & Parke, R. (2002). Child Psychology: A Contemporary Viewpoint (5th ed.). : McGraw-Hill.

Inoff-Germain, G., Chrousos, G., Arnold, G., Nottelmann, E., & Cutler, G. (1988). Relations between hormone levels and observational measures of aggressive behavior of young adolescents in family interactions. Developmental Psychology, 24, 129-139.

Segall, M., Dasen, P., Poortinga, Y., & Berry, J. (1999). Human Behavior in Global Perspective: An Introduction to Cross-Cultural Psychology (2nd ed.). : Pearson Education Company.


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