Studying sex and gender

If you’re interested in researching this area as a career, here are a few possible approaches

Brain imaging

Whether girls and boys are born the same is a hot topic for debate. Some scientists are tackling the issue by scanning the human brain, comparing those of boys and girls. It’s tricky to know what’s ‘hard-wired’ and how much of our brain structure is moulded by experiences during early childhood. One problem with this approach is that very young children don’t understand what’s happening if you try to put them in a brain scanner and won’t stay still for long enough.

Behaviour

Another approach to understanding how much girls and boys differ involves looking at their behaviour. There have been plenty of studies on toy preferences and colour preferences in young children and primates. These studies try to throw light on the root of the differences between males and females, asking whether genes, hormones or social influences determine the choices we make.

Mating

Sex is a fascinating area for animal behaviour researchers and evolutionary psychologists alike. From mating rituals to the mechanics of the sexual act itself, there’s rarely a dull moment. Often researchers use animal studies to try to explain why humans evolved as they did, although it’s never easy to draw comparisons. For example, studies on monogamy in voles (see our article ‘High fidelity’) may help further our understanding of why humans tend to be less promiscuous than, say, ducks.

Gender studies

Covering a wide range of different research areas, gender studies is an interdisciplinary field covering history, politics, sociology and the media. Possible projects may range from studying how men and women are represented in films to carrying out surveys about attitudes to breastfeeding.

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Sex and Gender’ in November 2014.

Topics:
Genetics and genomics, Neuroscience, Statistics and maths, Ecology and environment, Careers, Psychology, Health, infection and disease
Issue:
Sex and Gender
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development