Psychology 310: Psychology of Sex Differences

Fall, 2009

Instructor: Michael E. Mills, Ph.D.
Office: University Hall,  Room 4757
Office hours: Tuesday: 12:30 - 2:00,  Wednesday: 10:00 – 4:15 
Phone: (310) 338-3017

Email: memills@gmail.com   Please put “LMU” in your subject heading if you email me, otherwise I may think it is junk mail and delete it.

Class Websitewww.DrMillsLMU.com
Class wikis:  http://drmillslmu.wikispaces.com/    http://drmills-lmu.com/wiki-book

This course examines evolved sexually dimorphic adaptations - that is, how basic male and female "natures" differ.   In addition, students will learn about the proximate manifestations of sexually dimorphic adaptations, including neural/hormonal, emotional, and cognitive sex differences, as well their behavioral manifestations across cultures.

This course presents an exploration of sex differences from a "biosocial" or "evolutionary psychology" (nature-nurture interaction) perspective. The evolution of sexual reproduction, the two sexes, and sexually dimorphic morphology, behavior, and emotion will be examined. Females and males are, in most respects, far more similar to one another than they are different. However, our focus in this course will be on sexually dimorphic psychological and sexual adaptations.   These robust sex differences are likely to be manifest across different cultures and times.

We will explore the different "reproductive strategies" employed by males and females (including those of nonhuman species), and the resulting conflicts of interests between the sexes. Since the most extreme sex differences are those that are closely connected with reproduction, a particular focus of the course will be on sex differences in mating partner choice, courtship, sexuality, jealousy and mate guarding, mating systems, and parenting.

Course Objectives / Student Learning Outcomes

 

Students will be able to describe sex differences in terms of an effect size, describe theories of the evolution of sexual reproduction, the two sexes, and the sex ratio,  describe the processes of both natural and sexual selection, differentiate between ultimate and proximate levels of analysis,  differentiate between psychological adaptations, exaptations, adaptive byproducts, and traits that are "random noise,"  identify research methods to help to empirically differentiate sexually dimorphic from monomorphic adaptations, explain how Hamilton's and Trivers' theories of altruism operate both between and within the sexes,  give examples of how such dimorphic adaptations may manifest differently in different cultures.

 

Course Content and Informed Consent

 

Before you take this course, you should be aware that some of the content will cover controversial and personal topics, including evolutionary theory, sex differences, sexuality, and issues of ethics and morality.  For example, if the theory of evolution conflicts with your religious beliefs you may feel uncomfortable with some of the lectures that will be presented. (However, most Catholic and non-fundamentalist Christian theologians find no incompatibility with evolutionary theory and their religious faith.)  In addition, we will be covering aspects of human or animal behavior, including sexuality, that are not often discussed openly and honestly in polite, or mixed, company.   As such, there will be material discussed --  explicitly --  that could be, in principle, offensive to individuals with particular beliefs or attitudes. If this is a potential problem for you, then please contact me as soon as possible for clarification of  the issues, terms, and materials that will be part of the class.

 

 

TESTS / QUIZZES

There will be two midterms and a final exam. The midterms and final will be given online via Blackboard.

Quizzes.  Starting with the 3rd week of class, you will be given a brief quiz at the beginning of class every week (however, no quiz will be given on those weeks in which a midterm is scheduled).  The material covered on the quizzes will be from the previous week’s readings and lectures.     If the class meets twice a week, the quiz will be given on the Tuesday class.  The quiz will be given immediately at the start of the class.  There will be no make-up quizzes.   At the end of the semester, your lowest quiz score will be dropped.   (Hint:  Keep up with the weekly class readings!)

Examinations will include objective (T/F, multiple choice), and perhaps a few short answer and/or brief essay questions. Tests are not cumulative, except that on the final exam about 25% of the questions will cover the most important material from the first 2/3rds of the course.  No study guides will be provided – you are responsible for all of the material presented in class and in the readings.  

IMPORTANT: There will be no make up exams for missed tests without a note from your doctor.

 


Individual Term project (worth up to 25 points):

 

This will involve contributing to the course wiki, More information about this project will be presented in class, as well as on the class web site.

 

Group term project:  Seminar panels (worth up to 25 points).

 

A handout will be given to you describing how to complete this project, and will be available on the class web site.   This will involve researching a topic, giving a class presentation, and contributing to the class wiki as well as to open internet wikis, such as Wikipedia, Scholarpedia, and/or Citizendium.   

HOMEWORK

You will be given homework assignments. The point value of each will be specified.

EMAIL COMMUNICATIONS

Important class announcements will be provided via email.  By default, I will use your LMU email address. However, if you prefer email to go to a different email provider (e.g., GMail, YahooMail, etc.), email me with that email address. If you do not receive my emails, or should you change your email address, please contact me.

CLASSROOM CONDUCT

Please turn off beepers and cell phones before coming to class.   Regular attendance is and class participation is expected.  

If you bring a laptop to class please use it only to take class notes.  Please do not surf the web, IM, or email during class -- it is distracting both to you and your classmates.   (If this becomes a problem, I may prohibit laptop use during class.)

GRADING POLICIES

Throughout the course you will be awarded points for tests, quizzes, and homework assignments.  All points, whether from a test, a homework assignment, panel presentation, etc., are all given equal weight when summed. At any time during the course, your grade will be determined by total points you have accumulated up to that point.

 

Your grade in the class will be determined by your "content mastery grade." This grade is based on your percentage correct score.  However, the "maximum possible score" will be re-set to half way between the maximum points possible and highest point total actually obtained by the top scoring person in the class.  This is to your advantage, and it helps to adjust the grades based on the relative ease or difficulty of the tests. 

Grade Cutoffs Table (Percentage scores, again, where the maximum possible is re-set to half way between the maximum points possible and highest point total actually obtained by the top scoring person in the class):

 

A >= 93% of top score in class

 A- = 90 - 92

 

B+ = 87 - 89

B = 83 - 86

B- = 80 - 82

C+ = 77 - 79

C = 73 - 76

C- = 70 - 72

D+ = 67 - 69

D = 63 - 66

D- = 60 - 62

F+ = 57 - 59

F < 57

 

 

For example, if the maximum points possible on a test was 110, but the top score in the class was 100, 105 would be used as the basis for comparison of your score in the table above.

 

At any time during the course you can check your point total on Blackboard.  If you would like to know what the overall class point total is a particular point in the class, email me and I will get it for you.  You can then calculate your grade based on the above table.  I will also announce the class point total after midterms.

 

The week before the final exam, your lowest quiz score will be dropped, and the all points for tests, quizzes, homework, etc., will be summed.  Grades going into the final exam will be calculated and reported according to the grading system noted above.

At that time, if you have any questions regarding your grade, or if you would like to review your accumulated points (from homework, tests, panel presentations, etc.), please stop by my office during office hours to review the class roster (you must do so before the end of the class – point changes cannot be made after the course has ended).

 

REQUIRED TEXT

Mills, M. E. (2008). Sex differences: The Evolution, Proximate Mechanisms, and Cultural Variations of Sexually Dimorphic Adaptations.  This textbook will be available at my website.  The good news is that it is free!  If you wish, you may make a print out of the chapters to read them offline.

CLASS WEBSITE

My website is  www.DrMillsLMU.com     You can check this website to review this syllabus, as well as view other course-related material.  

 

TENTATIVE COURSE SCHEDULE

WEEK 1 Monday date: 8/31


Readings: Mills, Chapter 1.
Topics: What women say they like & dislike about men / What men say they like and dislike about women / Homework:
Gender differences writing assignment and computer administered questionnaire. Overview of the course and theoretical approach / Importance and benefits of understanding opposite sex / Obstacles to understanding opposite sex Generalizations / Is vs. Ought: What is natural is not necessarily good.

 

WEEK 2 Monday date: 9/07


Readings: Mills, Chapter 2.
Topics: Proximate differentiation: Fetal brain hormonalization / masculinization and defeminization.  In class video:  Zimbardo, Gender Differences

Websites:
     Faceprints (effects of male and female hormones on facial structure):
http://www-psych.nmsu.edu/~vic/faceprints/nonParticipant.html

     Sex and the Brain:  http://www.discover.com/neuroquest/neuroquest.html (scroll down to “Sex and the Brain”
     Gender Test:  http://test.thespark.com/gendertest/  (The test attempts to predict whether you are male or female by asking you questions – and not the obvious ones.)
     Levels of testosterone during pregnancy appear to influence the gender role behavior of preschool girls.  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-11/cfta-sst111102.php

     Do you have a male or female brain? Take the test:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/news/page/0,12983,937443,00.htm
    Genital differentiation website           http://www.sickkids.ca/childphysiology/cpwp/Genital/GenitalIntro.htm     
   Loving with all your ... brain.  MRI scans show activity in caudate area of the brain at the sight of one's beloved When you're in love, caudate area flooded with dopamine, a pleasure chemical Researcher: "Exactly the same system becomes active as when you take cocaine" http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/02/14/love.science/index.htm
   Female or Shemale? A photo quiz.
http://www.eclecticwebs.com/funfile/RawStuff/HeShe/
    Pheromones Point to Sexual Orientation:  Lesbians respond differently than heterosexual women, researchers find.
http://www.healthscout.com/news/1/532589/main.html
   Pas de Deux of Sexuality Is Written in the Genes.  By NICHOLAS WADE http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/10/health/10gene.html?ei=5090&en=94e1f4330f9db14e&ex=1333857600&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=prin
    Sexual orientation 'affects map reading skills
http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_2347538.htm
    Men and Women Really Do Think Differently http://www.livescience.com/health/050120_brain_sex.html
    Men can lactate.
http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=A24E0966-E7F2-99DF-322F8725F208D74
    MALE UTERUS A remnant of an undeveloped female reproductive organ hangs off the male prostate gland. FEMALE VAS DEFERENS What might become sperm ducts in males become the epoophoron in females, a cluster of useless dead-end tubules near the ovaries
https://notes.utk.edu/Bio/greenberg.nsf/0/0765bb50d404455385256f0000680854?OpenDocument&Click
http://www.decimation.com/markw/2007/07/09/what-evolution-left-behind-on-humans
   A twin brother's testosterone in the uterus can reduce his female twin´s chances of marrying and having children
http://www.geneticarchaeology.com/Research/Male_Twins_Can_Reduce_Their_Sisters_Fertility.asp
                He Thinks, She Thinks It’s not what you expect: Women are more resilient, men more focused. She navigates by landmarks, he by internal compass.Our differences are surprising and profound
http://discovermagazine.com/2007/brain/she-thinks
   Sexual Antagonism A genetic theory of homosexuality.  By William Saletan Female relatives of gay males have more children; compensates for gay males not reproducing.  Over-feminizing helps females reproduce.
http://www.slate.com/id/2194232/
   Men's testosterone levels predict competitiveness
http://www.physorg.com/news84473710.htm
    Spot the virgin, a test
http://www.okcupid.com/virgin
   Gene Helps Researchers Turn Fruit Flies Homosexual Behavior On And Off http://www.scientificblogging.com/news_releases/researchers_turn_fruit_flies_homosexual_behavior_on_and_off

 

WEEK 3 Monday date: 9/14


Readings: Mills, Chapter 3.
Topics: Weinrich's sexual 'periodic table' / Implications regarding gender identity and gender transpositions / Of limerance and lust as impulses and responses / Male and female sexuality/ Understanding natural selection and evolution / Why is there sex? Why are there two sexes? / The evolution of gamete dimorphism / r vs. K Selection / Sexual selection / Nature vs. Nurture / Ultimate vs. Proximate Explanations: How vs. Why / Other important terminology and concepts.

 

Relevant websites:

   Evolution of Sex An extensive collection of articles from the Nature Publishing Group http://www.nature.com/nrg/focus/evolsex/index.html
   Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sexes, by John Whitfield
http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pbio.0020183
    Raw Data: When Testosterone Turns Toxic Can more sex make up for less life?  ByJessica Ruvinsky DISCOVER Vol. 27 No. 07 | July 2000
http://www.discover.com/issues/jul-06/rd/rawdata
    Scientists report virgin shark birth
http://www.nova.edu/ocean/ghri/cnn_virginshark.html
    Women who refuse to have sex with men who eat meat.  (Men as a eugenics program run by females)
http://www.stuff.co.nz/AAMB4/aamsz=300x44_MULTILINK/4147483a6009.html
   Species Thrive When Sexual Dimorphism Broadens Their Niches (5/13/2007)
http://www.geneticarchaeology.com/Research/Species_Thrive_When_Sexual_Dimorphism_Broadens_Their_Niches.asp


WEEK 4 Monday date: 9/21


Readings: Mills, Chapter 4.
Topics: The 50/50 sex ratio / Reproductive value, potential, and variance / Inclusive fitness / Parental investment theory / The two most fundamental differences between the sexes / summary of predicted gender differences and the resulting "battle of the sexes"

Relevant websites:

Funny article -- The Onion: Study Finds Sexism Rampant In Nature
http://www.theonion.com/content/node/27908
   Higher reproductive variance in men.  Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men. Maybe 80 percent of women reproduced, whereas only 40 percent of men did.
http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/08/20/is-there-anything-good-about-men-and-other-tricky-questions/index.html
   Original Baumeister article http://www.psy.fsu.edu/~baumeistertice/goodaboutmen.htm



WEEK 5 Monday Date: 9/28

MIDTERM 1
Readings: Mills, Chapter 5.
Topics: Ultimate Female Themes and Strategies: The Basics / Female reproductive strategies / Female Behavior Across Species / Species with "reversed" female sex roles

Relevant websites:


   Female chimpanzees 'sell' sex for fruit
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2007/09/11/eachimp111.xml
   The enormous difference between male and female sexual behaviour may be explained, in animals at least, by a tiny organ in the nose  
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,22194507-30417,00.html?from=public_rss?fromrss=
    Female ducks have evolved "maze-like" genitals with many twists, pouches and dead ends, in a bid to prevent rape and retain control of who fathers their offspring – while male ducks have evolved equally convoluted penises to keep up
http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/node/127  
   wild penguins prostitute themselves for rocks
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/60302.stm




WEEK 6 Monday date: 10/5


Readings:  Mills, Chapter 6.
Topics: Ultimate Male Themes and Strategies: The Basics / Male reproductive strategies / Male Behavior Across Species / Species with "reversed" male sex roles

Relevant websites:

 The male Lyrebird impresses mates by imitating chainsaws, car alarms, camera shutters, and other sounds of the forest
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=343350705211489637
   Animal Attraction Males will do whatever it takes to win the mating game
http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0307/feature2
   The study gave a male rat two options. He could have sex with one female whenever he wanted, or with another only occassionally.  Guess which one he was drawn to. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20070426.wxlsexstudies26/BNStory/lifeFamily/home



WEEK 7 Monday date: 10/12


Readings: Mills, Chapter 7.
Mating systems: ecological determinants / polygyny, polyandry, monogamy, promiscuity / The biological "marriage contract".

Relevant websites:

   'Fidelity gene' found in vole
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3812483.stm

 

WEEK 8 Monday date: 10/19


Readings: Mills, Chapter 8.

Human Gender Differences / Nature-nurture interactions / Socialization processes / Anti-biological bias of past social science research / Robust vs. non-robust gender differences.

Relevant websites:

    Online video: Margaret Mead and Samoa
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3157675332479529894&q=margaret+mead+and+samoa&total=11&start=0&num=10&so=0&type=search&plindex=0
   The science of gender and science. Pinker vs. Spleke, a debate.
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/debate05/debate05_index.htm 

WEEK 9 Monday date 10/26

Readings: Mills, Chapter 9
Understanding men in contemporary culture.

Relevant websites:

   
   Ecosexuals Rule Dude. Go Green, Get the Girl
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/08/ecosexuals_rule.php
   An Accounting of daily gun deaths
http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2007/04/21/weekinreview/20070422_MARSH_GRAPHIC.html
    Questions From Your Girlfriend That Aren't Really Questions
http://www.doubleviking.com/questions-from-your-girlfriend-that-aren-t-really-questions-4486-p.htm
   Sex, lies and prostitution redux
http://blogs.smh.com.au/lifestyle/allmenareliars/archives/2007/07/sex_lies_and_prostitution_redu.html
    Chasing females can take years off your life
http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=998296
   Lift More Weights, Get More Mates: Research Shows Muscular Men Have More Flings, Partners, Affairs
http://www.physorg.com/news103217413.htm
   Why men like to gaze on the female form
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml;jsessionid=L014FD2CYOJDZQFIQMFSFGGAVCBQ0IV0?xml=/news/2007/05/09/nmen09.xml
   Surprise! 1-in-25 Dads Not the Real Father
http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/050810_whose_child.html
   Rite Aid Drugstores Selling a Paternity Test Kit. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/26/business/26gene.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&ref=business&pagewanted=print
 

WEEK 10 Monday date: 11/2


MIDTERM 2


Readings: Mills, Chapter 9 (continued).
Topics: Understanding men in contemporary culture, continued.

Relevant websites:

     Baumeister, R.F., Catanese, K.R., & Vohs, K.D. (2001). Is There a Gender Difference in Strength of Sex Drive? Theoretical Views, Conceptual Distinctions, and a Review of Relevant Evidence. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5, 242-273.
http://www.psy.fsu.edu/~baumeistertice/baumeistercatanesevohs2001.pdf
    Male risky initiatives, and male perceptions of rejection http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UJR8vm10_Y&mode=related&search
    Funny Onion article: That Female Looks Capable Of Passing On My Genetic Material
http://www.theonion.com/content/node/33484
    Table: Suicide rates per 100 000 by country, year and sex (Table)
http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide_rates/en/index.html  
    Youth and war, a deadly duo.
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/652fa2f6-9d2a-11db-8ec6-0000779e2340.html
    http://veryfunnyads.com    video clip:  male hitting on women http://veryfunnyads.com/index.html?id=2538
    shopping vs. sex -- a male perspective
http://www.askugg.com/2007/11/14/the-guaranteed-way-to-take-her-on-a-shopping-spree-and-still-not-get-laid
   Getting married saps your testosterone
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=mg19626264.600&feedId=online-news_rss2

   

WEEK 11 Monday date: 11/9


Readings: Mills, Chapter 10.
Understanding women in contemporary culture.

Relevant websites:

   Article: dads vs. cads
http://www.unl.edu/rhames/courses/current/dad-cad.htm
    What women want (humor):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvAfbscBmM8
   Maternity insecurity?  Two Women Don't Match Their Kids' DNA
http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/print?id=231569
   Fertile women dress to impress, U.S. study finds
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-409692/Women-dress-impress-fertile.html
   Article: Why mothers insist baby has daddy's eye
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/story/0,,1959457,00.html
   Women prefer to date masculine men, but marry those that are more feminine
http://www.stuff.co.nz/3944160a4560.html
    Article: the choosiness of women: 
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/10/science/10tier.htm
http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/04/09/how-dont-i-love-thee/
   Evolutionary biologists think female orgasms may pick the best sperm
http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/index.php?term=pto-19960101-000028&print=
   When women see a rival smiling at a man, he becomes more attractive as a result. Catching the lovebug...Why beauty is infectious By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/01/17/nbeauty117.xml
   Women Prefer Men Who Look Like Dad
http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/070613_father_partners.htm
   Fatherhood at First Sight: Women Can Spot Good Dads By Their Face
http://www.livescience.com/health/060510_ap_men_fathers.htm
 
   

WEEK 12 Monday date: 11/16


Readings: Mills, Chapter 10 (continued).
Topics: Understanding women in contemporary culture.

 Relevant websites:

   The Math Behind Beauty A plastic surgeon computes the perfect face face template
http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jun/blinded-by-science
   actual mask
http://www.beautyanalysis.com/index2_mba.htm
   Time Mag: The Dilemma of 'Virginity' Restoration
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1822297,00.html
   Female strippers' tips correlate to their fertility
http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/index.php?term=pto-4435.htm
   Some accidental pregnancies aren't so accidental—especially if the guy could be a good provider.
http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20050831-000007.html
   Women More Likely to Cheat on Genetically Similar Men
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,250707,00.htm
   DontDateHimGirl.com.  females detecting male cheating
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/16/fashion/thursdaystyles/16WEB.html
  

WEEK 13 Monday date 11/23 --  Thursday: Thanksgiving

 


Readings: Mills, Chapter 10 (continued).
Topics: Understanding women in contemporary culture.  

 Relevant websites:

    Average of 15 female faces http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2006/10/beauty_is_in_the_processingtim.php
   Casual sex is a con: women just aren't like me.  Former groupie Dawn Eden explains how she realized morality made more sense for women than free love. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2092-2545852,00.htm
   Women now ‘raping’ men             
http://www.sowetan.co.za/News/Article.aspx?id=413523
  Parody:  PornForGirlsByGirls.com
http://www.pornforgirlsbygirls.com
  How I Need a Hand in Mine to Feel.  I got happy/sad when he said he was leaving. http://www.thisisby.us/index.php/content/how_i_need_a_hand_in_mine_to_feel
  

WEEK 14 Monday date: 11/30


Readings: Mills, Chapter 11.
Topics: Interaction Between the Sexes

Relevant websites:

     The Science of Love video series:              http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/hottopics/love
   The Onion (humor): Girlfriend Changes Man Into Someone She's Not Interested In
http://www.theonion.com/content/node/38827
    Men and women often misunderstand each other's flirtation signals.
http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20010901-000016.htm
    Sexual consent / sex contract video (humor?):
http://www.glumbert.com/media/consent
    Cuckoldry: Vasectomy: $400. Speechless look on her face: priceless
http://www.craigslist.org/about/best/sea/274495936.html
     Half of all women would lie to their husbands or partners to keep their relationship going if they became pregnant by another man, a survey said today.
http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/s/139/139613_women_lie_cheat_and_steal.html?ref=emtaf&archive=archive
   Gold digger wonders what               she's doing wrong
http://howardlindzon.com/?p=272
   Househusband backlash as high-flying wives ditch men they wanted to stay at home
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/femail/article.html?in_article_id=467390&in_page_id=1879#StartComment
   Researchers Map the Sexual Network of an Entire High School
http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/chainspix.htm

  

WEEK 15 Monday date   12/7


Readings: Mills, Chapter 11 (continued) and 12. 
Interaction Between the Sexes (continued) / The Future

Relevant websites:

      Goodbye boys: why men could soon be extinct
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/features/article1155329.ece

     The prospect of all-female conception
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/science_technology/article2444462.ece
    Interview with David Levy, Author of “Love + Sex With Robots
http://www.andiamnotlying.com/2007/metal-fingers-in-my-body-interview-with-david-levy-author-of-love-sex-with-robots
   Sex with robots? Not so far off, says author
http://www.concordmonitor.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071230/ENTERTAINMENT01/71230035
   

 

WEEK 16 FINAL EXAM    


 

Approaches to Studying Sex and Gender Differences: Varying Perspectives and the Focus of this Course


Recent decades have witnessed two contradictory processes: the development of scientific research into the differences between the sexes, and the political denial that such differences exist. These two intellectual currents are, understandably, not on speaking terms. -- Moir and Jessel, "Brain Sex", 1989, p. 12.

Courses on sex and gender differences are taught from two very different perspectives.  The perspective we will take here is an adaptationist, or evolutionary psychology, perspective.  This approach suggests that humans have evolved sexually dimorphic (different) psychological and sexual adaptations

Informed consent is a requirement for participating in a psychological experiment. Although this class is not an experiment, you should be informed about the theoretical focus of this course, and the approaches we will use to try to better understand sex differences. Although many students may not directly perceive it (until perhaps years later), both the overt and implicit intellectual biases of their professors influences their interpretation of the subject they teach. Overt biases are easy to spot, however, the implicit ones that may be a bit difficult to notice. This is especially true in disciplines where there exists strong intellectual divergence of opinion, e.g., political science, philosophy, economics, sociology, theology, etc. Surprisingly, it even is true to some extent in courses in more mature disciplines, such as physics and medicine, which are so advanced that their theories predict many phenomena fairly well.

In contrast, psychology is an emerging and relatively undeveloped scientific discipline. The phenomena psychologists study are probably the most highly aggregated, interacting, and complex of most any scientific discipline of study. Human emotion, behavior, and cognition, most psychologists agree, is an incredibly complex interaction of biological, interpersonal and environmental factors. And there is heated debate regarding the relative importance of each of these factors in causing human behavior, and especially with respect to the causation of sex differences. There are two major theoretical approaches.

The first approach, what we might call the cultural determinism or social constructionist approach, suggests that sex differences are purely a consequence of cultural conditioning. It is assumed that humans are essentially born a "tabula rasa" -- there is no unique "human nature" that may be found in its various manifestations in different cultures. That is, there are no underlying commonalities between separated cultures--they could be different from one another on any trait in any direction. Proponents of this approach suggest that biology has no, or a very insignificant, influence in the determination of sexually dimorphic (different) behavior. Sex differences that do exist are presumed to be purely socially conditioned or socially constructed. Since it is assumed that there are no important biologically-influenced psychological sex differences, hypotheses suggesting that there are sexually dimorphic psychological adaptations, and thus there is likely to be a biologically-based "male nature" and a "female nature," are seen as extraordinary, and require extraordinarily convincing evidence before they are taken seriously.

The second major theoretical approach to the study of sex differences assumes that both nature and nurture are important, and interact to produce sex differences. This is the "evolutionary psychology" or "nature-nurture" interaction approach. The key argument of this approach is that, like morphology (physical characteristics), psychological adaptations too are subject to environmental selection pressures, and thus emotional, cognitive and behavioral predispositions evolve over many generations, and result in a bundle of neurological predispositions. Taken as a whole, this bundle of predispositions is termed "human nature." Every species has evolved a unique morphology; so too is each different in terms of its "behavioral nature" -- its unique set of behavioral predispositions.

Evolutionary psychologists further argue that a limited set of cross-culturally consistent sex differences are a consequence of different evolutionary pressures operating on males and females. Thus, it is theorized that males and females, as a group, have a slightly different set of emotional and behavioral predispositions. Such predispositions are not the same as instincts. Instead, predispositions are "facultative" (conditional) and subject to social conditioning and modification, yet at the same time exert a behavioral influence--what might be termed a "behavioral tropism." Thus, evolutionary psychologists argue that sex differences are a consequence of the combined influence of both biology and culture. Specific predispositions may be magnified, minimized, repressed and/or or displaced in various cultures. Evolutionary psychologists suggest that the basic reproductive strategies of females and males may be manifested somewhat differently in different cultures--perhaps so much so that it may be easy to overlook the underlying commonalities. For example, the human biological predisposition to learn a language is manifested differently in different cultures (e.g., different languages). But, despite this cultural variation, it is clear that specific languages are a manifestation of a common biological/neurological predisposition. Since it is assumed that males and females are biologically/neurologically different with respect to behaviors closely connected with reproduction, hypotheses suggesting that there are no, or very few, biologically-based sex differences are seen as extraordinary, and require extraordinarily convincing evidence before they are taken seriously.

Courses on sex and gender differences are typically taught from one of these two very different theoretical orientations. The perspective associated with most courses on gender differences taught in the past 40 years or so has been "cultural determinism" orientation. That is, the theoretical assumption that there are no important biologically influenced gender differences, and an analysis of environmental determinants of behavior, the group and society, are sufficient to achieve a full understanding of gender differences.

Here is my bias:  I believe that there is compelling evidence and theory that point to the existence of sexually dimorphic psychological adaptations. As noted earlier, evolutionary psychologists assume that an exclusively "nurture" analysis is insufficient to achieve a full understanding of sex differences. Rather, the combined effects of both "nature" and "nurture" is needed to attain a full, sophisticated understanding.

To elaborate a bit on the earlier discussion, the basic assumption of evolutionary psychology is that the behavioral characteristics of individuals who are reproductively successful (leave many viable offspring) will, over many generations, tend to become more predominate in the population. Characteristics of less reproductively successful individuals will tend to diminish. That is, like morphology, behavioral predispositions evolve. 

The relevance of this to the study of sex differences is that males and females have different, biologically influenced, reproductive opportunities and constraints that can profoundly affect their reproductive success. That is, when it comes to reproduction, females and males have different adaptive problems to solve.

The primary focus of this course will be on the sex differences that: (a) are the evolutionary consequences of these reproductive differences, (b) are likely to remain somewhat consistent across different cultures and times. That is, our primary focus will be on the cross-cultural consistencies of sex differences, rather than the cross-cultural variations. Our goal will be to try to identify that which is most fundamental about sex differences: "robust" differences that are likely to be maintained across different cultures and times.

As noted above, there will be much discussion of evolution in class so if the theory of evolution conflicts with your religious beliefs you may feel uncomfortable with some of the lectures that will be presented. However, most Catholic and non-fundamentalist Christian theologians find no incompatibility with evolutionary theory and their religious faith. 

For me, the most profound philosophical/religious questions are these: (a) Why is there something, instead of nothing? (b) Given that there is something, why does it appear that the universe is governed by a set of rules? (c) Given that there is a set of rules, why this particular set of rules rather than an infinite number of alternative sets? I'm afraid we won't get around to answering these questions in this course... But they may offer a framework to help integrate our thinking about evolution and religion. If God created the universe and the rules that govern it, then one way to think about evolution is that it is the way in which the universe unfolds. In this sense, the universe runs as if it were on "auto-pilot," according to a basic set of rules, including those of the processes of evolution. And, in this way of thinking, God may not have "directly" intervened to design you and me, or humans, or even sexual reproduction for that matter, but rather may have set into motion the evolutionary processes that ultimately designed homo sapiens, you and me as individuals, and sexual reproduction.

This course may be one of the most challenging courses you will take, both intellectually and emotionally. A great deal of honesty will be expected and expressed. Some of the topics to be explored are those that are not often discussed openly and honestly in polite, or mixed, company. In fact, we will discuss characteristics and motivations that one or the other sex may prefer to minimize or deny about themselves. In addition, because evolutionary psychologists believe that females and males have different reproductive strategies, opportunities, and constraints, they think that "robust" sex differences are most likely to be discovered in behaviors that are closely related to reproduction, specifically, behaviors related to sexuality, courtship, commitment, jealousy, and parenting.


Evolutionary psychology is on the cutting edge of thinking in cognitive psychology, and in nature-nurture analyses of sex and gender differences. In some ways, it is a radical shift in thinking about how to most productively study human behavior in general. Thus, much of the terminology we will use will be new (even to psychology majors). But more importantly, you will be asked to think about, and analyze, human behavior in a fundamentally new and different way. Such "cognitive restructuring" is not always pleasant, and may even be slightly disturbing. For example, the conclusion (derived from an evolutionary analysis of reproductive strategies) that males and females have different, and somewhat incompatible, reproductive interests, and that the battle of the sexes is real and is likely to continue, may not be the way we would like the world to be structured. However, I think we would do well to avoid having the way we would like things to be blind us to comprehending an imperfect reality.

There are several obstacles to understanding the opposite sex that we will discuss, including the fact that each of us is already a member of one sex, and thus we are likely to share, and try to promote (perhaps unconsciously), the interests of our gender--since they are often our personal interests too. Other obstacles include (a) our previous personal experiences with the opposite sex, and (b) the specific way our own culture interprets gender (which we may be inclined to think is more cross-culturally universal than it actually is). We will try to keep these obstacles in mind throughout the course, although it would be unrealistic to think that that these biases could be eliminated entirely.

The fact that each of us (including myself) is already a male or a female could bias our studies is one reason why evolutionary psychologists argue that a biological analysis will help us more objectively differentiate those sex differences that represent sexually dimorphic adaptations from those that are more culturally variable.

One bias of this course is that it will be "heterosexist."  We will examine sex differences primarily from the perspective of heterosexual males and females. Heterosexuals, because they must intimately deal with the conflicting reproductive interests of the opposite sex, must negotiate and compromise with the opposite sex in ways that homosexuals generally do not. In fact, precisely because homosexuals do not have to compromise with the opposite sex, we will find that comparisons between heterosexual and homosexual behavior may help to illuminate some fundamental sex differences.

 Although this course will not be taught from a feminist perspective, do not infer that it is not “pro-woman.” There are many “feminist evolutionary psychologists” (including Helen Fisher, Sara Hrdy, Linda Mealey, Nancy Segal, Doreen Kimura, etc.). 

Above I've outlined some of the theoretical perspectives of this course--let me also tell you about some of my personal, political opinions relevant to sex and gender.

I recognize that, as a member of one sex, I can speak for females only from an intellectual or theoretical perspective, not from an experiential one. I will not be so presumptuous to speak about the phenomenological experiences of women. However, regardless of one’s own sex, we all should be able to achieve an intellectual understanding of both female and male reproductive adaptations. I don't think that either sex, in general, can appropriately be considered "better" or "superior." I believe in complete equality of opportunity for both sexes. I don't think any barriers should be placed before anyone because the work they wish to do is not sex-role stereotypical. I don't think that males and females differ in any significant way intellectually, or in their ability to perform the vast majority of jobs.

I think that the areas where males and females are most likely to differ, and where their interests are most likely to conflict, are related to those behaviors that are intimately connected with reproduction: courtship, commitment, sexuality, jealousy, and parenting. Unfortunately, in some of these areas, males and females are likely to have conflicting interests. These incompatibilities lead to a universal "battle of the sexes." However, fostering an understanding and empathy of the opposite sex, and ways in which compromises may be made, I think is our best hope of reducing this "battle."

This course will not focus a great deal on issues of morality, equality, politics, or "what ought to be;" rather the focus will be more on the "what is" of robust sex differences, and how it got to be that way. The rationale for this is that I think a realistic and sophisticated understanding of "what is" provides one with the prerequisite knowledge to help make informed judgments about "what ought to be," and how to get there. Thus, we will be exploring some of the darker sides of human nature, including selfishness, jealousy, aggression, sexual harassment and victimization, deceit and self-deceit, manipulation, interpersonal conflict, etc. Why study such unpleasant phenomena? By analogy, if one wants to discover a cure for cancer or pneumonia, one must be willing to expose oneself to some gruesome autopsies and embark on long study of unpleasant diseases. None of our explorations of negative human traits is meant to offer any moral justification for these undesirable behaviors. Again, "what is" does not imply "what ought."

Below are some related, miscellaneous assumptions and ideas that will be presented during his course. Many of our motivations are unconscious. We are unaware of the "ultimate" (evolutionary) reasons for our motivations and emotions, and thus the language of ultimate (evolutionary) causal analysis is likely to sound alien and/or feel uncomfortable. We engage in a great deal of self-serving self-deception (indeed, more than we are willing to admit!). In a related sense, much of polite and socially sanctioned social discourse regarding sexuality and gender differences is designed to obscure underlying conscious or unconscious personal interests. Here, a comparison of the various reproductive strategies of other species is likely to enlighten us about human reproductive strategies and sex differences.

By the end of the course, you will have a deeper understanding of the opposite sex (and, hopefully, more empathy as well). By then I believe you will be a member of a very select group--you will have a far more profound understanding of sex differences, and the opposite sex, than the vast majority of humans alive today.


Psyc 310 -- PANEL SIGN UP SHEET

To sign up for a panel, please write you name, email and phone number.

 

WEEK 3    Monday date: 9/8


Topics:   Brain/hormonal sex differences, or the evolution sexually dimorphic behavior

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WEEK 4 Monday date: 9/15

Topics:  Reproductive value / reproductive variance / reproductive rate.

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WEEK 5    Monday date: 9/29


No panel presentations – Midterm week.

 

 WEEK 6  Monday date: 9/29


Topics: Ultimate Male Themes and Strategies: The Basics / Male reproductive strategies / Male Behavior Across Species / Species with "reversed" male sex roles

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WEEK 7  Monday Date: 10/6


Mating systems: ecological determinants / polygyny, polyandry, monogamy, promiscuity

 

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WEEK 8  Monday date: 10/13



Human Gender Differences / Nature-nurture interactions / Socialization processes / Anti-biological bias of past social science research / Robust vs. non-robust gender differences.
Understanding men in contemporary culture.

 

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WEEK 9  Monday date: 10/20

Understanding men in contemporary culture, continued.

 

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WEEK 10  Monday date: 10/27


No panel presentations -- midterm week.

 

WEEK 11 Monday date: 11/3


Understanding women in contemporary culture.

 

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WEEK 12 Monday date 11/10

 


Topics: Understanding women in contemporary culture.

 

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WEEK 13 Monday date 11/17

 


Topics: Understanding women in contemporary culture.  

 

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WEEK 14 Monday date: 11/24


Topics: Interaction Between the Sexes

 

 

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WEEK 15 Monday date: 12/1

 


Interaction Between the Sexes (continued) / The Future

 

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