While genital differentiation is attributed to the actions of sex chromosomes and prenatal hormones, behavioral differentiation is most often attributed to the effects of the social environment. There is some consensus that prenatal androgens may play a smaller role in gender identity development than behavioral development, but this is by no means a resolved issue. Male monkeys, like human boys, showed an overwhelming preference for the wheeled toys, while female monkeys, like human girls, though interacting more with the plush toys did not show a significant preference for one toy type over the other 18; Figure 1. As an example, sex differences in preferences for different kinds of toys have long been considered to reflect the strong effect that the social environment has on gendered behavioral development 7 , 8. For many years, one of the defining debates in psychology and biology was centered on the relative contributions of nature and nurture in all aspects of development. Each trial simultaneously offered a wheeled toy e. Thus, the sex difference can be defined in terms of boys showing a strong preference and girls showing only a slight or even no clear preference In our study, we allowed a large social group of rhesus monkeys access to two toys at a time across multiple trials. Girls, on the other hand, tend to play with these masculine types of toys as well as feminine types of toys 9 —
In humans and nonhuman primates, sexual differentiation begins well before birth, and while the effects of genes and hormones on internal reproductive duct structures and on external genitalia are well-understood 5 , effects on neural development and subsequent behavior are not as well understood, especially for nonreproductive behavior. While genital differentiation is attributed to the actions of sex chromosomes and prenatal hormones, behavioral differentiation is most often attributed to the effects of the social environment. In this view, genital anatomy is the only biological endpoint relevant to determining gender. For many years, one of the defining debates in psychology and biology was centered on the relative contributions of nature and nurture in all aspects of development. Because the social environment can obviously suppress or enhance behavior by changing its form, and because of strong gender socialization in human cultures 9 , the influence of socialization on gendered behavior is a more readily acceptable explanation for gendered behavior than are biological factors. For example, biologically determined biases in toy preferences could create a gendered toy market because more boys enjoy playing with the family wheelbarrow and more girls enjoy taking care of infant siblings. Effects of the social environment and gender expectations in human cultures are ubiquitous, overshadowing potential underlying biological contributions in favor of the more observable social influences. Thus, by producing differential biases in the brains of males and females, biological processes could indirectly create the social environment that then makes the development of gendered behaviors appear to be the product of socialization without biological input. As we consider the relationships among physical, neural, behavioral, and psychological sexual differentiation, we must recognize that all behavior occurs within a social context, regardless of the species studied. Girls, on the other hand, tend to play with these masculine types of toys as well as feminine types of toys 9 — However, because explicit socialization can never be completely ruled out the parents know about the disorder and the abnormal androgen exposure , different experimental approaches were necessary to separate socialization from the equation, and one approach has been to study toy preference in other species. Awareness of the importance of biological sexual differentiation on psychology has dramatically increased and practices have been altered 1 , but the complexity of the interactions between biology and the social environment are well worth revisiting from basic science perspectives. Recent work in nonhuman primates showing behavioral sex differences paralleling human sex differences, including toy preferences, suggests that less easily observed biological factors also influence behavioral sexual differentiation in both monkeys and humans. In practice, however, nature and nurture have often been seen as separable, influencing human clinical sex assignment decisions, sometimes with disastrous consequences. In other words, biology proposes and the social environment disposes. Only one study allowed assessment of preference by having exemplars of two gender-stereotyped toys available at the same time Such studies demonstrate that for a variety of behaviors, including juvenile mounting and rough play, individuals can have the genitals of one sex but show the behavior more typical of the other sex. The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at J Neuroendocrinol See other articles in PMC that cite the published article. Even when these girls have female genitalia, female gender identity, and feminine parental socialization, they tend to show highly masculinized toy preferences 4 , 15 , There is some consensus that prenatal androgens may play a smaller role in gender identity development than behavioral development, but this is by no means a resolved issue. For many years, sex assignment of human infants was based almost exclusively on the appearance of the external genitalia 1: Abstract The theoretical debate over the relative contributions of nature and nurture to sexual differentiation of behavior has increasingly moved towards an interactionist explanation requiring both influences. However, in our understanding of sexual differentiation, a curious divide remains. The notion that genital masculinization might also be associated with masculinization of the brain was not considered and the possibility that genital and brain effects of androgens were separable phenomena was not entertained, resulting in devastating consequences for some individuals whose psychological sex did not match their sex of rearing 2. In doing this, we highlight the importance of timing and duration of prenatal hormone exposure for different anatomical, behavioral, and psychological endpoints, resulting in a more nuanced view of sexual differentiation as reflecting separable processes that produce a range of physical, behavioral, and psychological phenotypes. In some ways, this argument has been laid to rest and an interactionist view has prevailed.
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