Outline and evaluate the evolutionary explanation of gender roles, including parental investment and sexual selection

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Outline and evaluate the evolutionary explanation of gender roles, including parental investment and sexual selection (24)

In relation to gender, Evolutionary Psychology assumes that the goal of most human behaviour is to maximise the survival chances of the individuals genetic line, and therefore gendered behaviours developed through the process of sexual and natural selection as an advantageous mutation to each sex to aid survival. It argues that gender differences arose to enhance our chances of reproductive success and producing healthy offspring. Evolutionary psychologists therefore explain many differences between males and females in terms of the ‘Parental Investment Theory’.  

Males can produce millions of sperm, and can potentially father vast numbers of offspring, and as a result an effective reproductive strategy for the male is simply to impregnate as many females as possible to ensure his genes flourish in the next generation. Various male strategies have arisen to find suitable partners, such as hip to waist ratio and youth, which both signify a woman’s fertility. They also seek to control their partners sexual activity due to fear of cuckoldry, as they can never be sure of paternity.  Females produce only a relatively small number of eggs by comparison. Females have a much higher parental investment than males.  They can only produce a limited amount of eggs, and also have  to invest considerable energy and nutrients (physical demand), such as carrying each infant for 9 months in the womb. Therefore, for women an important reproductive strategy is to have a loyal partner, who will help provide for the child and invest time and effort as well as having high levels of genetic fitness.

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From these basic concepts of the parental investment theory and sexual selection, evolutionary psychologists argue that gender identity and roles centre on mating strategies. For instance, they claim that man is naturally aggressive, sexually dominant and competitive to help them hunt and provide for the offspring, whereas women are monogamous, nurturing and protective which is useful for keeping the mate and raising offspring. These roles encourage behaviour and actions appropriate to each gender and thus reinforce human gender identities.

A study that supports the evolutionary theory of gender roles is Williams and Best (1990). They looked at attitudes to ...

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