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How do the evolved processes related to biological gender operate in different cultural and economic conditions?

How do the evolved processes related to biological gender operate in different cultural and economic conditions?

Human sex differences in coalitional aggres sion and the division of labor are of particular interest to anthropologists because of their rel atively recent evolution and probable role in the origins of patriarchy (Smuts 1995). It is difficult

to predict how such biological systems might operate given the relative uniqueness, among all animals, of coalitional aggression and hunt

ing as sex dimorphic features. The psycholog ical construct that has been most commonly proposed as reflecting adaptations for coali tional aggression is called social dominance ori entation, defined as “the extent to which one

desires that one’s in-group dominate and be superior to out-groups” (Pratto et al. 1994, p. 742), which shows substantial sex differences.

Although many physical sex differences may be

related to hunting ability, the psychological di mensions investigators have proposed to sup port sex differences in hunting and gathering in the literature are mostly cognitive, e.g., spa tial rotation and object memory, rather than re

lated to emotions or personality, in keeping with

an emphasis on cognitive changes in human evolution (Kaplan et al. 2000).

The role of the reproductive endocrine sys tem in human sex differences has been assessed

using several techniques. For concurrent ef fects in children and adults, concentrations of sex hormones can be measured in the blood

or saliva. For prenatal effects, several indirect

techniques have been used, including compar ison of children with congenital adrenal hy perplasia with controls, concentrations of sex hormones in amniotic fluid, and the relative

lengths of the index and ring fingers, abbre viated as 2D:4D (Cohen-Bendahan et al. 2005, Mclntyre 2006).

SOME EVIDENCE FROM ADULT MEN AND WOMEN Some evidence indicates at least a small role of

the reproductive endocrine system (especially androgens, like testosterone) in the ongoing maintenance of adult sex differences in em

pathy and dominance striving. For example, Deady et al. (2006) found a negative association of basal testosterone concentrations with ma

ternal ambitions in women, and Hermans et al.

(2006b) found evidence that an exogenous dose

of testosterone reduces empathy as assessed by unconscious facial mimicry. However, levels of testosterone in women vary over the course of

the menstrual cycle and even over the course of several days (Sellers et al. 2007). A number of studies have found associations between

basal or exogenous levels of testosterone and behaviors or attitudes associated with

dominance striving in men and women (Dabbs 1997, Wirth & Schultheiss 2007) and women alone (Cashdan 1995, Grant & France 2001, Hermans et al. 2006a).

However, as noted by O’Carroll (O’Carroll 1998), the interpretation of these results is Early Development of Gender Differences 8$

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complicated by the interesting, and better es tablished, observation that men’s testosterone levels also fall in response to failures in domi nance contests of various kinds (Archer 2006, Dabbs & Dabbs 2000, Elias 1981, Mazur & Booth 1998), especially for men who strive more for dominance (Schultheiss et al. 2005). Archer (2006) proposed that this response is part of a primitive, evolved system by which men’s willingness to enter dominance contests is informed by their previous record of success.

Recent evidence suggests that willingness to enter new contests is influenced by basal testos terone level (Mehta et al. 2008) and/or testos terone response to winning or losing (Carre &

McCormick 2008), and the effect is probably mediated by subtle physiological, rather than psychological, shifts (van Honk et al. 2004). Of course, hormones also have many other nonpsychological functions, including the reg ulation of muscle mass, which could be evolu

tionarily meaningful (Bribiescas 2001). In keeping with the view that male parental

investment increased during human evolution, a number of studies have identified possible suppressive effects of romantic relationships,

marriage, or fatherhood on testosterone lev els in men from several societies and, surpris ingly, lesbians (Gray 2003; Gray et al. 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007; Mazur & Michalek 1998;

Mclntyre et al. 2006; van Anders & Watson 2006, 2007). Many of these studies have re vealed interesting interactions suggesting that social and psychological factors might play sub

tle roles in regulating the suppression of testos

terone and mating effort.

In the case of coalitional aggression, little evidence indicates that hormones play a major role in sex differences. Burnham (2007) found

that men with higher testosterone reject low of

fers in an economic experiment called the ulti matum game. This could be interpreted simply as a reaction to a perceived threat to personal status or dominance. However, he also noted

a nonsignificant trend for men with higher testosterone to make larger offers in the game.

Together these trends might suggest a role for testosterone in the establishment of reciprocal

86 Mclntyre Edwards

relationships through moralistic aggression. However, as we noted, social dominance orien tation is the most established measure of group

level affiliation and a recent study found no association of social dominance orientation

with either testosterone or 2D:4D (Johnson et al. 2006, Mclntyre et al. 2007).

There are a number of established sex dif

ferences in the performance of Western adults

on a number of cognitive tests, including men tal rotation of shapes on which men perform better and verbal and object memory on which women perform better (Kimura 1999). How ever, Ecuyer-Dab & Robert (2004) have noted that there are two competing evolutionary in terpretations of these differences. They may be part of the primitive systems supporting sex dif

ferences in ranging and mate seeking (Gaulin & FitzGerald 1986, Jones et al. 2003), or they may be derived specifically to support hunting by men and gathering by women (Silverman & Eals 1992). A sex difference in throwing and targeting ability might be more recently derived

in response to male hunting (Westergaard et al.

2000), but the developmental trajectory of these abilities is obviously complex and includes fac tors such as size and strength, which are often ignored (Jones & Marlowe 2002). Some of the effects of androgens on mental rotation tasks may not be related to cognitive ability (Hooven et al. 2004), and these associations vary across

cultures (Yang et al. 2007). Given the limitations of evidence coming

from adult sex differences, it is useful to con

sider the role of biological factors in the ear lier development of sex differences in infancy and childhood. Researchers with both biolog ical and sociocultural perspectives have turned to studies of children to reduce the complex problem of personal life histories, which result

from the continuous transaction of physical, fa milial, and sociocultural processes with the de

veloping individual. However, we would take this a step further and argue that a better un

derstanding of biosocial interactions over the life course also provides valuable insights into how biological systems affect sex differences, al

lowing for the formulation of hypotheses about

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how sex differences might develop in a vari ety of sociocultural systems, including ones that

no longer exist (and ones that might someday exist).

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