Summary - What's the Difference Anyway?

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

What's the Difference Anyway?

The study of sex differences is contentious and controversial. Some scholars exaggerate sex differences, others minimize them. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Meta-analytic reviews, which quantitatively summarize sex differences using the d statistic, have documented some fairly large sex differences in specific domains. For example, men and women differ substantially in the personality trait of tender-mindedness, in many nonverbal behaviors, in some kinds of occupational preferences, in people-orientation versus thing-orientation, in some kinds of sexual behaviors and attitudes, in some kinds of mate preferences, in at least one cognitive ability (mental rotation), and in many kinds of general knowledge. Sex differences in many social behaviors (aggression, helping, moral behavior, conformity, persuasion, group behavior) are small to moderate in size, and they often vary depending on situational factors. For many personality traits (e.g., conscientiousness, openness to experience, self-esteem), cognitive abilities (e.g., general intelligence, general verbal ability), and social behaviors (self-disclosure, negotiation outcomes) sex differences are small to negligible. There is gathering evidence that men may be more variable on some traits (e.g., intelligence, aggressiveness, degree of preference for certain traits in a mate) than women are.

The incidence of some mental disorders (e.g., depression and antisocial personality disorder) and behavior problems (e.g., reading and speech disorders) show substantial sex differences, and some of these differences are likely linked to sex differences in personality. Men and women may express and experience emotions somewhat differently, with men more sensitive to internal cues and women more sensitive to external cues. In general, women may express emotions through multiple channels (verbally, nonverbally. physiologically) more than men do. In response to stress, men may be more likely to show a fight-or-flight response and women a tend-and-befriend response. Women are relatively more likely to use social support as a coping strategy, whereas men are relatively more likely to use problem-solving and distraction as coping strategies.

Men's self-concepts may be organized relatively more in terms of the independent characteristics emphasized by individualistic cultures, and women's self-concepts may be organized relatively more in terms of the interdependent characteristics emphasized by collectivist cultures. Furthermore, women's relatedness to others is conceived more in terms of personal, affiliative, one-on-one relationships, and men's relatedness is conceived more in terms of social groups and social hierarchy

Boys and girls show a number of robust behavioral differences. Boys social lives are more hierarchical and group-centered, and boys engage in more active, competitive, aggressive, and rough-and-tumble play. Boys engage relatively more in physical aggression, girls in relational aggression. Girls' social lives are more one-on-one, and girls engage in more reciprocal, verbal, and negotiated kinds of play Boys fantasize more about heroic individual achievements, and girls fantasize more about family and reciprocal social roles. Starting at an early age, boys and girls prefer to play with different kinds of toys. All of these childhood sex differences contribute to the sex segregation commonly observed in children's friendships and playgroups. This segregation begins at around 3 years of age, grows stronger through middle childhood, and does not wane until opposite-sex romantic and sexual attractions emerge in preadolescence.

1Some researchers have argued that the word sex should be used to refer to the biological status of being male or female, whereas the word gender should be used to refer to all the socially defined, learned, and constructed accoutrements to sex, such as hairstyle, dress, nonverbal mannerisms, and interests (Crawford & Unger, 2000; Unger, 1979). However, it is not at all clear the degree to which differences between males and females are due to biological factors versus learned and cultural factors. Furthermore, indiscriminate use of the word gender tends to obscure the distinction between two different topics: (a) differences between males and females, (b) individual differences in maleness and femaleness that occur within each sex.

Accordingly, in this chapter I use the term sex differences because the goal here is to contrast two biological groups: males and females. My use of the term sex differences implies nothing about the causes of these differences. In Chapter 2,1 use the terms masculinity and femininity to refer to individual differences within each sex in how male-typical or female-typical individuals are.

2Personality disorders refer to long-term patterns of abnormal behavior that are deeply rooted in the individual's personality. People who suffer from antisocial personality disorders are sometimes also referred to as sociopaths or psychopaths. They are deceitful, manipulative, and sometimes violent. Because they lack a conscience, they experience no remorse over despicable deeds. Those suffering from compulsive personality disorders engage in rigid, ritualized, and over-controlled behaviors, whereas people with schizoid disorders are reclusive, antisocial, and show what most consider strange and eccentric behaviors. People with narcissistic disorders are excessively self-centered and self-aggrandizing.

3Conversion disorders refer to anxiety-based syndromes in which the patient shows hysterical bodily symptoms, such as paralysis, blindness, and eating disorders, which are presumed to be of psychological origin. The borderline personality disorder is characterized by identity confusion, self-destructive behavior, compulsive sexual behavior, and the tendency to create scenes in interpersonal life and to have shallow relations with others. The histrionic personality disorder, a cousin to the borderline disorder, is characterized by tendencies to over-dramatize one's life and problems.