Gender stereotypes and nature vs. nurture

Is gender difference a result of nature or nurture? Is neuroscience research being manipulated to support gender stereotypes? A debate at the Festival of Ideas will explore the issue later this month.

Leading neuroscientist Professor Simon Baron Cohen will be taking part in a debate at this year's Cambridge Festival of Ideas on whether science has been used to promote gender stereotypes.

Neuroscientists have been criticised in recent books by feminist writers such as Natasha Walter's Living Dolls for bolstering gender stereotypes.

Simon Baron Cohen, professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, says critics who argue that gender difference is all a question of socialisation are in danger of oversimplifying the interaction of biology and experience. He says: "Some in the mind and behaviour may in part be the result of our biology (prenatal hormones and genes) interacting with our experience. The old nature vs. nurture debate is absurdly simplistic and a moderate position recognises the interaction of both.

He adds that he is wary of neuroscience research being used to bolster traditional gender stereotypes. He says: "The main goal of neuroscience is to understand the mind, and is certainly not to bolster traditional views."

Joining him in the Gender difference: nature vs nurture debate on 30th October are Dr Laura Nelson, who did her PhD in neuroscience at the University of Cambridge and has campaigned successfully against gender stereotypes, getting Hamley's toyshop to remove gender specific signs and launching a gender stereotype-busting project in schools. She will draw the link between inequality, toyshops and brains and address how the myths lock inequality in place and what we can do about them.

Deborah Cameron, professor of language and communication at the University of Oxford, will talk about how our language is influenced by and influences . She says: "Human language depends on both 'nature' and 'nurture', and both may be expected to produce some differences in the linguistic behaviour of men and women. Yet much of what is currently asserted about the 'naturalness' of male-female differences in language use is not supported by sociolinguistic research."

She is interested in why we are currently so attached to the idea that men and women communicate differently.

Jo-Anne Dillabough, reader in education at the University of Cambridge, will speak about how the nature vs nurture debate influences education.

The debate is one of many taking place at this year's Festival of Ideas, which runs from 24 October to 4 November.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Taking care of business shouldn't be just for men

May 22, 2008

Studies reveal that in the dog-eat-dog, look-out-for-No. 1, highly competitive business world, only the aggressive, risk-taking alpha male can expect to succeed as an entrepreneur. That statement may sound sexist, but it ...

Tough girl or sidechick?

Apr 21, 2010

These have the potential to influence a young viewing audience and their ideas about gender and violence. Her study is published in Springer's journal Sex Roles.

Women, men and the bedroom

Oct 14, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- In the racy television hit show, Sex and the City, Carrie, one of the main characters tells her best girlfriends that "Men who are too good looking are never good in bed because they never had to be." ...

Recommended for you

Screenagers face troubling addictions from an early age

10 hours ago

In 1997, Douglas Rushkoff boldly predicted the emergence a new caste of tech-literate adolescents. He argued that the children of his day would soon blossom into "screenagers", endowed with effortless advantages over their parents, ...

Better memory at ideal temperature

11 hours ago

People's working memory functions better if they are working in an ambient temperature where they feel most comfortable. That is what Leiden psychologists Lorenza Colzato and Roberta Sellaro conclude after having conducted ...

User comments