Methodologies for Implicating Socialization Factors

Another methodology for examining the source of a given behavioral sex difference is to see if boys and girls are treated differently by parents or the general culture. If so, the sex difference may be due to differential socialization, although an evolved basis cannot be ruled out. Some evidence suggests that the effects of differential socialization may have been exaggerated. Maccoby (1998) reviewed this cross-cultural literature and concluded that when people react to an unfamiliar infant of unknown gender, they do not consistently alter their treatment on the basis of the infant's perceived or labeled gender. Furthermore, parents deal quite similarly with their sons and daughters. In a meta-analysis of hundreds of studies, no statistically significant sex differences were found for warmth, restric-tiveness, discipline, or encouragement of achievement or dependency (Lytton & Romney, 1991). In many cultures no sex difference in socialization for a given behavior is reported, making it difficult to say that socialization generally causes the corresponding sex differences in behavior (C. R. Ember, 1981).

Cognitive theories of the acquisition of sex roles may account for many sex differences. However, children begin to conform with these expectations, or stereotypes, before they understand about sex-appropriate behavior or even to which sex they belong. For example, the cooperative style of girls and the confrontational style of boys emerge before children come to believe that girls are supposed to be "nice" and boys "rough." Even if children do understand a certain expectation for sex-typed behavior, they may not conform with it themselves (Serbin, Powlishta, & Gulko, 1993; Signorella, Bilger, & Liben, 1993), and may even exhibit a backlash against demonstrations of nontraditional behavior (Durkin & Hutchins, 1984).

However, Maccoby (1998) did find the following consistent gender-specific differences in treatment. Parents treat daughters more gently than sons, and talk more with daughters about interpersonal events. Parents express more approval of sex-appropriate behaviors than of sex-inappropriate ones, especially for boys. Across cultures, girls tend to be less different in their behavior than boys, and experience a less radical transformation upon entering adolescence (Schlegel & Barry, 1991). In many different cultures, mothers begin training daughters to behave properly and to help with tasks before they do so with sons (B. B. Whiting & Edwards, 1988). Girls are generally socialized to be nurturant, and boys to strive for achievement and self-reliance (Barry, Bacon, & Child, 1957; Hoyenga & Hoyenga, 1993; Welch & Page, 1981).

Subtle socialization influences may occur and may have profound and unexpected consequences. Girls have been found to have more traditionally feminine occupational aspirations if they have more brothers (Abrams, Sparkes, & Hogg, 1985; Lemkau, 1979). In a study of young children's interest in babies, a sex difference was observed only when the child was asked to look after the baby, not when spontaneous play with the baby was measured (Berman & Goodman, 1984). This seems to indicate the operation of sex role identification. Then too, children may be directed to perform sex-specific tasks, develop competence in these tasks, take pride in their mastery, and therefore come to enjoy these activities (Edwards, 1985).

Behavioral genetics research indicates that nonshared environmental factors that affect siblings differently, such as peers, mentors, and illnesses, contribute much more to individual differences in behavior than do parents' values and practices (Plomin, 1990; Rowe, 1994). Our understanding of environmental influences will have to be drastically revised to be consistent with these data. Behavioral genetics has also demonstrated that parents' socialization practices are themselves somewhat heritable, showing that genes and environment interact in subtle ways (Plomin, 1990). For example, brighter parents (intelligence is highly heritable) keep more books in the home, an environmental influence enhancing intelligence. Also, genetically based characteristics of the child may elicit particular parental responses, and a child with a particular genetically based propensity may seek out environments with like-minded peers.

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