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Hormones in Context:
Testosterone and Aggression - Childhood.

If parents mete out punishment to boys, stimulate gross motor movement in male infants more, and encourage gender stereotyped play in infants, can we truly say that aggressive behaviour is 'natural' to boys?

As Condry and Condry (1) point out there are very few 'blind' studies about behaviour. They asked a group of people to describe the emotional behaviour of some 9 month-old infants, who had been startled by a Jack-in-the-box. Those, who had been told the infants were boys, described the reaction as anger. If they thought the infants were girls, they described the reaction as fear.

Similarly, if they thought some babies were boys, they encouraged activity, and chose male type toys; if they thought the babies were girls, they interacted in a more impersonal and nurturant way.

Thus we make Citations based on the child's perceived sex. The Condrys also pointed to a possible source of observer bias in many studies. They asked whether observed differences in aggressive behaviour in such studies would still hold up if the children's sex was unknown. Words like fearful, aggressive and dependent may be used for very different behaviours and often biassed by the sex of the subjects, or even of the researcher.

The biological argument portrays male aggression as the biggest behavioural difference between men and women, and that it is natural and innate, all of which is insupportable. Even the suggestion that, throughout all human cultures boys are more aggressive than girls doesn't hold water. To make any statement including the words "all human cultures" is rash, but in any case, assuming it true, there is wide variation between cultures, and wide variation in individuals within those cultures.

That variability is, I submit, is the real biological component of aggressive personality.

While parents respond to the child's innate behaviour patterns, it is not true that they "vainly try to unteach" aggressive behaviour. They may discourage what they see as too violent behaviour, especially within the family. They certainly encourage a higher level in a boy that they perceive as being too gentle. The social component is that individual behaviour is normalised according to cultural expectations.

At school, we have not been reticent about using medical means. Some boys might be judged by the biological argument to be particularly masculine. For many years it has been the practice to dose them with Ritalin to keep them quiet and attentive. The behaviour has, of course, been given a impressive-sounding medical name - Minimal Brain Disorder, and, as one writer notes, it has an uncanny tendency to go into remission in the school holidays.(2)

A fuller discussion of this appears elsewhere,(3) but the double standard that we have about gender becomes clear when we refuse to provide medication to help juvenile transsexuals to exist and prosper within our social environment.

Bibliography and good reading.

  1. Condry, J., Condry, S., (1976) Sex Differences: A study in the Eye of the Beholder Child Development 47 (1976) 817 in Fausto Sterling, A., (1992) Myths of Gender, Biological Theories about Women and Men, (p150) New York: Basic Books
  2. Rose, S., (1997) Lifelines: Biology, Freedom, Determinism. London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press.
  3. Rose.S, Lewontin.R.C, Kamin.L.J, (1990) Not In Our Genes: Biology, Idealogy and Human Nature. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
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Bland, J.,(2002) About Gender: Testosterone and Aggression - Childhood.
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Web page copyright Derby TV/TS Group. Text copyright Jed Bland.
06.05.98 Last amended 12.03.02