The Nature–Nurture Debates: 25 Years of Challenges in Understanding the Psychology of Gender

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Is nature or nurture the stronger influence on sex differences and similarities? If asked, most psychologists would probably reply that the question is misguided. Obviously, both are influential. Yet, as we show in this article, nature–nurture debates have remained highly conten- tious in the psychology of gender, and contemporary researchers only sometimes integrate the two causal influences. More commonly, researchers focus on one type of cause to the exclusion of the other or treat them as competing explanations. In analyzing the state of these nature–nurture debates in psychological science, we invoke the terms in their broadest meaning, whereby nature refers to biological structures and processes and nurture refers to sociocultural influences. In this article, we analyze changes in psychologists’ thinking about nature and nurture by tracing the psychol- ogy of gender from the founding of the Association for Psychological Science in 1988 to the present day.  We believe that the future of science pertaining to gender and sex differences lies in overcoming ideological and identity biases and formulating theories that effectively integrate principles of nature and nurture into interactionist approaches. Yet, the complexity of such theories presents intellectual challenges for psychological scientists who try to model the intrinsic dependence of nature on nurture and vice versa. Perhaps as a result, research has tended to focus on one or the other type of cause, yielding a muddled scientific voice in public discourse. Adding further difficulties, the media and public need simplifying frameworks that facilitate using scientific evidence to rea- son about gender in daily life. Excellent communication is essential because any messages from psychological science on gender issues compete with robust informal reasoning based on ideology, everyday observation, and cultural traditions. Among the competing informational sources on sex and gender, science may not be winning. 

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DOI: 10.1177/1745691613484767
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