Summary - Cross-Examinations

Gender, Nature, and Nurture - Richard A. Lippa 2014


Cross-examination reveals weaknesses on both sides of the nature-nurture debate. Both sides are at times guilty of selectively reviewing evidence, and both sides are tempted to make overly strong causal conclusions based on correlational data.

Partisans on the nature side sometimes overgeneralize animal results to human beings and underemphasize plausible environmental explanations for research findings. Furthermore, they often fail to specify the precise mechanisms by which biological factors influence gender-related behaviors.

Partisans on the nurture side of the debate fail to acknowledge that correlations between parents' and children's gender-related behaviors may be due to genetic as well as environmental factors. They also fail to acknowledge that not only do environments influence gender-related behaviors but also that genetic predispositions influence the environments in which people choose to be. Recent behavior genetic findings that common environmental effects on gender-related behaviors are weak throw doubt on classic socialization accounts of gender.

Although social psychological processes such as self-fulfilling prophecies and behavioral confirmation are offered by nurture theorists as explanations for sex differences, recent research suggests that these processes may be weak in real-life settings. Furthermore, experiments on self-fulfilling prophecies, behavioral confirmation, and stereotype threat are often conducted on limited populations in controlled, artificial settings. Thus, they are best viewed as plausibility demonstrations rather than as conclusive demonstrations of real-life processes.

Nature theorists may at times be guilty of overly simplistic and reductionistic explanations of gender, whereas nurture theorists may embrace explanations that are so complex, relativistic, and hermeneutic that they are scientifically unsatisfying.

Continued changes in the roles of men and women will provide new data about the effects of nature and nurture on gender, and ongoing research will bring a clearer resolution to the nature-nurture debate.

*Just so stories are clever but post hoc and sometimes far-fetched evolutionary explanations for particular traits in animals and humans. The term comes originally from Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, which offer fantastical fictional accounts for why various animals have particular traits.