With relevant theory
and research evidence, critically discuss the view that there are sex
differences in personality.
It is said that men
and women are so different from each other that ‘Men are from Mars, Women are
from Venus’ (Gray, 1992). Physical differences between males and females are apparent;
however, differences in personality is a more controversial topic, and many
psychologists have researched into the differences in traits. Some aspects of men
and women’s personalities are distinct, as males and females’ behaviours,
attitudes, and emotions vary from one another. Males are seen as masculine with
characteristics such as aggressiveness, dominance and competitiveness, whereas
females are seen as feminine and are typically associated with qualities such
as nurturing and sensitivity. Theories such as the five-factor model, parental
investment, social roles and socialization theory from the social and cultural
domain of personality psychology, and an evolutionary perspective and hormonal
theories from the biological domain can supply an understanding of the
underlying causes of sex differences in personality, and research on these
theories such as Buss’ (1992) study provide evidence of sex differences in
Sex is a biological
term which divides humans into two categories of male and female on the basis of
their reproductive potential (Cheng, 2017), and personality alludes to the
collection of qualities that form a person’s distinctive character, and psychological
traits which influence one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Sex difference
in personality refers to the average difference between men and women based on
their traits (Cervone and Pervin, 2017). Costa and McCrae’s
(1992) five-factor model (FFM) is
a five-dimensional taxonomy of broad personality traits which consists of extraversion,
agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism (Maltby et al.,
2010). Several studies on the FFM show evidence that there are sex differences
in personality as men and women scored differently on the traits. Women scored
higher on characteristics related to neuroticism as they are more emotionally
unstable than men and tend to experience anxiety, agreeableness as they tend to
be warm and trusting, and openness to feelings, whereas men scored higher on openness
to ideas and extraversion as they are more assertive (Widiger, 2017).
Studies on adults have shown that sex differences for most
personality traits are relatively small; however, there is a disparity in the
emotionality of men and women. More than 70% of women have an above average
level of emotionality; contrastingly, 70% of men have a below average level of
emotionality (Ashton, 2017). Buss’ (2003) study findings support these
statistics as he established that a common complaint from men was women are too
emotional, in contrast to women complaining that men don’t express their
emotions enough (Larsen and Buss, 2005). Brebner’s (2003) article on gender and
emotions investigated the frequency of experiencing eight different emotions,
and found that women are more likely than men to experience both positive and negative
emotions. Perhaps the majority of men have a below average level of
emotionality as they do not experience emotions as frequently or intensely as
women. Various researchers have explained the emotionality factor of sex
differences in personality in terms of kin altruism. The parental investment
theory states the different costs and investments women versus men have made in
parenting. Kin altruistic tendencies seem to be stronger in females as there is
a heavier biological cost on women who carry the pregnancy, undergo childbirth and
parental investment is larger for women as they can potentially produce fewer
offspring than men and can always be certain they are the mother. However, men
cannot always be sure so must ensure their investment is for their biological child
(Larsen and Buss, 2005; Ashton, 2017; Cervone and Pervin, 2017).
In a social and
cultural context, men and women have always been viewed differently throughout
history, and have been assigned specific social roles depending on their
difference in traits. Eagly’s social role theory is the notion that gender
stereotypic behaviour and sex differences in personality originates from
different male and female role expectations, and being distributed differently
in family or occupational roles (Eagly, 1987). Until recently, women
predominantly stayed at home and took care of the children due to their
nurturing abilities, whilst men were responsible for providing for their
families and being in power. Overtime children presumably learn the content of
gender roles and behaviours linked to them. Girls learn to be nurturing,
emotional and kind due to their maternal and homemaker role, whereas boys learn
to be aggressive, assertive and competitive in order to take on the
breadwinning role (Larsen and Buss, 2005; Rudman and Glick, 2012). Sex differences were found to be smaller in
societies where there were gender equality and men and women had more similar
roles (Eagly, 1987). According to the socialization theory boys and girls are reinforced
by their parents, teachers and the media for carrying out ‘masculine’ or
‘feminine’ behaviours. Gender related expectations influence personality and
overtime children learn the behaviours deemed appropriate for their sex,
creating sex differences in personality. Bandura’s (1997) social learning
theory suggests that children learn by observing behaviours of same-sex models.
These models provide a guide to ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ behaviours, and even
without reinforcement children learn these behaviours. There is cross-cultural evidence
of differential social treatment as girls in most cultures are assigned more
domestic chores (Larsen and Buss, 2005). In a large cross-cultural study of
socialization practices, it was found that girls were taught by parents to
delay sexual intercourse, whereas boys were encouraged to have sexual
intercourse (Low, 1989).
From an evolutionary perspective, the reason why men and
women are different is because
they faced different adaptive challenges over human
evolutionary history. Their behaviours have evolved to adapt to different
pressures they faced. According to evolutionary psychologists, the sexes are
only predicted to differ in aspects which they have confronted different
adaptive problems. Over human evolutionary history, men have risked investing
in children who may not be their own. Therefore, the most damaging act, from an
ancestral man’s view, would be his mate having a pregnancy from another male.
However, from an ancestral women’s point of view, an act of infidelity
committed by her mate would risk losing her partner’s time, commitment,
investment and recourses. Thus, it is predicted that men and women have
different approaches to jealousy. It is anticipated that male’s jealousy is
triggered over sexual infidelity, whereas women are most jealous when there is
an emotional attachment, a threat to loss of resources and her partner’s
commitment being diverted to another woman (Larsen and Buss, 2005).
Buss’ (1992) study on undergraduate students explored
whether they would experience greater distress in response to their partner’s
sexual or emotional infidelity. 60% of men reported greater distress of sexual
infidelity, in comparison to 83% of women over emotional infidelity, precisely
as predicted by the evolutionary hypothesis of sex differences in jealousy. In
a second study, physiological measures of distress were recorded on two
scenarios. Participants imagined their partner became either emotionally or
sexually involved with another person. Again, males showed greater
physiological distress when imagining sexual involvement, and women when
imagining emotional involvement. Researchers have replicated similar studies
across other cultures such as the United States, Germany, The Netherlands and
Korea and have found corresponding results. These cross-cultural findings
suggest that sex differences in jealousy are universal (Larsen and Buss, 2005;
Cervone and Pervin, 2017). There are sex differences in terms of sexuality and
mating as men have a greater desire for sexual variety, and therefore are more
inclined to have casual sex. Women stated they ideally wanted 4 or 5 sexual
partners during their lifetime, whereas for men it was substantially more as
they wanted more than 18 (Buss and Schmitt, 1993.) It also seems that men find
it more difficult to be ‘just friends’ with the opposite sex. Findings of Buss
and Bleske-Rechek (2001) show that men are more likely to become sexually attracted
to their female friends, or initiate friendship with women due to sexual
attraction, whereas females prefer having opposite-sex friendships for
protection. Males are more likely to end friendships that do not result in
sexual activity. This suggests that opposite-sex friendships are a strategy men
use to gain sex, and women use to gain protection.
Hormonal theories argue that sex differences in personality
are well established prior to adulthood, and males and females differ because
of different underlying hormones each sex possesses, rather than the influence
of the external social environment. It identifies the link between sex
differences in hormones such as testosterone, and sex-linked behaviours such as
dominance and aggression. Testosterone is typically greater in men as their
circulating testosterone level ranges between 5,140 to 6,460 picograms per
millilitre of blood, in relation to only 200 to 400 picograms for women. It is
found that higher testosterone levels in both sexes are associated with
aggressiveness and dominance, and women with high levels are linked to pursuing
more masculine careers (Larsen and Buss, 2005). Singh et al (1999) suggested
that testosterone has been linked to role identification of lesbian women, with
butch lesbians having higher testosterone levels than femme partners (Ellison
and Gray 2009).
Men and women differ
on some aspects of their personalities, as they think, feel and behave
differently. Studies carried out using the FFM show that women and men rank
differently on the 5 broad personality traits, and there is a disparity between
men and women’s emotionality. According to theories such as social role,
socialisation, parental investment, hormonal theories and an evolutionary
perspective, and research on these theories, there are different underlying
causes for sex differences in personality.
Ashton, M. C. (2017)
Individual Differences and Personality.
3rd ed. London: Academic Press
Brebner, J. (2003)
Gender and emotions. Personality and Individual
Differences, 34 (3), pp. 387-394.
Buss, D. M and
Bleske-Rechek, A. L. (2001) Opposite-Sex Friendship: Sex Difference and
Similarities in Initiation, Selection, and Dissolution. Sage Journals, 27 (10), pp. 1310-1323.
Buss, D. M. and
Schmitt, D. P. (1993) Sexual Strategies Theory: An Evolutionary Perspective on
Human Mating. Psychological Review, 100
(2), pp. 204-232.
Cervone, D and
Pervin, L. A. (2017) Personality: Theory
and Research. 13th ed. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley &
Cheng, M. (2017)
‘Social and Cultural Domain (I)’ Powerpoint presentation. PSYC2049: Personality and Intelligence.
Available at: https://vle.dmu.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/pid-3804996-dt-content-rid-6237696_1/courses/PSYC2094_2018_Y/Social_%26_Cultural_Domain%20handout%20I.pdf (Accessed 20 November 2017).
Eagley, A. H. (1987)
Sex Differences in Social Behaviour: A
Social-Role Interpretation. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Ellison, P. T and
Gray, P. B. (eds.) (2009) Endocrinology
of Social Relations. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Gray, J. (1992) Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus: A
Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your
Relationships. New York City: HarperCollins.
Larsen, R. J and
Buss, D. M. (2005) Personality
Psychology: Domains of Knowledge About Human Nature. 2nd ed.
Boston: McGraw Hill.
Low, B. S. (1989) Cross-cultural
patterns in the training of children: an evolutionary perspective. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 103
(December), pp. 311-319.
Maltby, J., Day, L.
and Macaskill, A. (2010) Personality,
Individual Differences and Intelligence. 2nd ed. Essex: Pearson
Rudman, L. A. and
Glick, P. (2012) The Social Psychology of
Gender: How Power and Intimacy Shape Gender Relations. 3rd ed.
New York City: Guilford Press.
Widiger, T. A. (ed.)
(2017) The Oxford Handbook of the Five
Factor Model. New York: Oxford University Press.
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Word count minus title (17 words), in-text citations (72
words) and references (287 words) = 1500