Re: Gender differences

Gerold Firl (
5 May 1995 15:35:56 -0700

In article <3nsh8n$> (Douglas C Scott) writes:
>Kathy Petrie ( wrote:
>: Gerold Firl ( wrote:
>: : I think it is fair to say that socialization plays a part in the formation
>: : of all human behaviors, but to deny the role of instinct is delusion.

>: : Consider the propensity to play with dolls seen among girls. Girls are
>: : encouraged to play with dolls, of course, and that is cultural. But when I
>: : see a juvenile baboon female who manages to get ahold of an infant, I
>see a
>: : behavior which is clearly instinctive, and instantly recognizible as
>: : related to behavior in our own species.

>: Have Harry Harlow's studies been discredited? If memory of my
>: primatology course 19 years ago is holding firm, he removed rhesus monkeys
>: at birth to raise them in complete isolation -- the intent being to
>: identify what might be instinct and what might be learned behavior.
>: Female rhesus monkeys so raised had no idea what their babies were (both
>: sexes had to be taught to have intercourse as well), and exhibited no
>: mothering behavior towards them whatsoever.

As Douglas notes in his reply, this is not a good test of the instinctive
basis of mothering. The monkeys were so messed-up that they had lost all
capacity to function as monkeys. To paraphrase a famous remark, a primate,
all alone, is not a primate - meaning that as highly intelligent social
species, we require the presence of our own kind, our social unit, to
complete our natural habitat.

Would you concede that there is an instinctive basis to the pair-bonding
which takes place between mother and child? Note that infants raised with
cloth-covered wire-mothers, who could hug their "mother" and receive the
comforting stimulus of her soft surface, actually turned-out relatively
normal. The juveniles *needed* this contact with their mother. It is an
instinctive need, manifesting autonomously. I find it quite unlikely that
the reciprocal instinct is lacking; I believe that mothers have an
instinctive need to hold their babies. This instinct is even seen in
juvenile females, who will make every attempt to get their hands on a baby.
Are you familiar with the american custom of "baby sitting"? A large
percentage of american females have acted as a "baby sitter" at some point
in their life. If you get a chance to observe the natural behavior of
social primates, note how the juvenile females behave. Compare to the way
girls play with dolls. If you cannot see the connection, I'd like to hear
your explanation for how these homologous behaviors came about.

>: (Speaking anecdotally, as a former girl, I had no inclination or interest
>: in dolls and babies despite all the cultural cues and encouragement
>: American society could heap on in the 1950s and 60s. So much for instinct
>: ;^)

Not so fast; instinct is not universal. Instinct exists as a statistical
property of populations, with averages and extremes. Males and females
show differences in the extent to which they tend to have particular
instincts, but there is overlap between them. You may not have felt a
strong attraction for babies, or a strong urge to engage in mothering
behavior, but your particular experience can not be applied to the larger
population. I think it is fair to assume, given the knowledge we have now,
that instincts are distributed among the population statistically, probably
approximated fairly well as a gaussian. You might be on the low tail for
this instinct, which could be the result of hereditary and/or environmental
effects. But that does not invalidate the statistics.

>Indeed the big discovery in this seems to have been that some of
>the effects of raising monkeys this way could be partly alleviated
>by providing a surogate mother in the form of fur covered dolls.
>Wire mesh mothers were not good enough. The babies had to able to
>hug them for comfort. These studies were important in understanding
>pyschological development in primates. But I never heard of anyone
>using this as evidence of learning gender differences.

Right. In fact, this question raises another interesting issue: if monkeys
have a culture, learned from observing other members of the society,
complete with sex-role differentiation, how do youngsters know which sex
they should emulate? Do monkeys check the sex of their newborns? The first
thing said of a human is "it's a boy/girl!" At the beginning of this
sentance, the child is an it, indeterminate sex. At the end of the
sentance, scant moments later, a very important signifier relating to the
identity and position of the individual within society has been
established. Do our relatives do anything similar? Given the poverty of
their vocabulary, I find it hard to believe that something like sex roles
could be culturally determined for monkeys. It seems much more likely to be
instinctive. And in all likelyhood, humans have the same, or very similar,
instincts. They are obscured by additional layers of cultural conditioning,
but they're still there. It helps to be aware of them.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf