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

Brains transform remote threats into anxiety

Nov 21, 2014

Modern life can feel defined by low-level anxiety swirling through society. Continual reports about terrorism and war. A struggle to stay on top of family finances and hold onto jobs. An onslaught of news ...

Mental disorders due to permanent stress

Nov 21, 2014

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the ...

Could there be a bright side to depression?

Nov 21, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A group of researchers studying the roots of depression has developed a test that leads them closer to the idea that depression may actually be an adaptation meant to help people cope with ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.