Explaining Behavior: Evolution, Societal Structure, and Neurology


 By Cassie Greenwald

Based on the findings discussed in this article men and women are different, and men and women behave differently. Is the source of these differences neurological, due to evolutionary influence, or to socialization, or a combination of the three? It is speculative what drives the thoughts of men and women that translate into behaviors, which are often in accordance with sex/gender. It is important to note that unlike the sex of an individual, gender refers to the cultural differences expected (by society / culture) of men and women according to their sex. How have what we call “men” and “women,” and the way we define them, developed over time?

To explore the behavior differences between men and women, evolved dispositions versus social roles need to be analyzed. Evolved dispositions is proposed by evolutionary psychologists who describe the differences between men and women as sex-specific mechanisms, which cause men and women to differ psychologically and as a result, have a tendency to occupy different social roles. According to the article The Origins of Sex Differences in Human Behavior, “From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, human sex differences reflect adaptations to pressures of the differing physical and social environments that impinged on females and males during primeval times” (Eagly and Wood, 1999). Evolutionary psychology would suggest that violence, competition, and risk-taking behaviors in men evolved because men competed with other men for sexual access to women. This resulted in women then developing a counter-tendency to nurture and seek long-term mates. Thus, through the scope of evolution, psychologists believe that behavior has evolved because of ancestral influence.

The Social Structural Theory suggests that the structure of society and contrasting social positions of men and women influence behavior. This includes the biological endowment of men being typically larger and stronger than women. The societal roles chosen as a result lead to more physically demanding occupations. Across cultures, childbearing influences the roles that women have in their culture. If a child is nursing for an extended period of time, she will spend more time on domestic activities. This gravitation towards domestic roles leads women to less power and status. Men’s gravitation towards roles that are more physically demanding produces more dominant behavior.

The gender specific roles of men and women lead to gender-stereotypic behavior. “Gender-stereotypic explanations can also affect behaviors by becoming internalized as part of individuals’ self-concepts and personality” (Eagly and Wood, 1999). The gender that an individual identifies with may be largely influenced by social structure and the behaviors they most identify with. “We need to conceptualize gender as a social structure, and in doing so, can better analyze the ways in which gender is embedded in the individual” (Risman,2004). An individual is born being male, female, or intersex; it is gender that influences behavior, and theories like the Social Structural Theory that influence gender roles.

Our evolved behaviors and societal structures both share one commonality; they are filtered through the brain of an individual. A study performed at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that there is a greater neural connectivity from front to back within one hemisphere in males. This would suggest that the brains of males are structured to facilitate connection between perception and coordinated action. In females, the wiring goes between the left and the right hemispheres. This would suggest a facilitation between analytical and intuition. This translates into behavior as, “men are more likely better at learning and performing a single task at hand, like cycling or navigating directions, whereas women have superior memory and social cognition skills, making them more equipped for multitasking and creating solutions that work for a group” (Brain Connectivity Study, 2013).

Studies have shown that when comparing the total volume of the brain, in women, the hippocampus is larger that in men. Whereas, in men, the amygdala (area crucial for the formation of emotionally charged memories) is larger than in women. Scientists tested emotional reactions by giving participants a drug dampening the amygdala. They were presented with an emotional story and scientists found that men had a more difficult time recalling information central to the story line. Women had a more difficult time recalling peripheral story details one week later. This might provide further insight as to why men remember the gist of an emotional event and women tend to remember the specific details. It is worth considering if men and women evolved into current social structures because they were neurologically inclined to do so.

Based on evolutionary theories, societal influences, and neurological research, there is no precise explanation of how we explain the behavior “men” and “women”. The evolved dispositions of men and women provide a foundational rationalization for how behavior has evolved because of pressures from physical and social environments. The Social Structural Theory provides an angle that examines how gender specific roles leads to gender specific behavior. From a scientific perspective, the differences between men and women are a result of neurological dissimilarities that result in men and women performing better at different tasks. The findings of the psychological and scientific research discussed in this article have lead to the conclusion that to explain the behavior of “men” and “women” one must examine research from all angles.

Brain Connectivity Study Reveals Striking Differences Between Men and Women. (2013, December 1). Retrieved March 22, 2015

Eagly, A., & Wood, W. (1999, January 1). The Origins of Sex Differences in Human Behavior. Retrieved March 23, 2015

Risman, B. (2004, August 1). Gender As A Social Structure. Retrieved March 23, 2015.


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