Biosocial explanations of gender dysphoria

Students are always asking about this topic. They write to me ‘Would a question specify biosocial explanations or just be on gender dysphoria?’ It’s better to prepare for the former question because that essay would do in either circumstance.

Here is a possible essay answer:

  • Paragraph 1: The biosocial approach to gender dysphoria suggests that this condition develops because of an interaction between biological and psychosocial factors, a kind of diathesis-stress approach where a person is born with some biological difference (such as genes) which increases the likelihood of gender dysphoria. However life events determine whether such a predisposition ultimately develops into dysphoria.
  • Paragraph 2: Such a biological predisposition might include brain differences [describe such possible differences, possibly describing research].
  • Paragraph 3: Biological predisposition might include exposure to pesticides [explain this/describe research].
  • Paragraph 4: Remind the reader that psychosocial factors trigger the expression of the underlying biological factor(s). This might include … [description of a psychosocial explanation].

That should give you 200 words (50 words per paragraph) which is about right for AO1.

Notice the persistent focus on the interaction at the beginning of each key point.

As I have used evidence as my AO1 then I need to consider carefully how to do the AO2:

  • Paragraph 5 and 6: Can use two studies that support the AO1.
  • Paragraph 7 and 8: Can use two studies that contradict the AO1.
  • Paragraph 9: What about determinism? This is not a determinist approach to understanding gender dysphoria because it suggests that biology alone does not inevitably lead to gender dysphoria …
  • Paragraph 10: This research on gender dysphoria is ethically socially sensitive because ….
  • Paragraph 11: The strength of this biosocial approach to understanding gender dysphoria is … rather than taking a strictly biological and psychosocial approach, the biosocial approach can explain why identical twins don’t always both develop the disorder ..
  • Paragraph 12: A limitation of the biosocial approach to understanding gender dysphoria is …

That should give you 400 words which is right for AO2.

No, I haven’t written the answer for you – you have to do something!

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  1. Bhonita May 27, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    Hi-would I be able to include psychological explanations like separation anxiety in this kind of question? I don’t quite understand how to link that to any biological factors. Also, if I was to say that an underexposure to testosterone may lead to an individual being brought up to be a female despite being biologically a male, would I be talking about gender dysphoria or something else? Thanks

    • Cara Flanagan May 28, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

      Hi Bhonita

      If you can use separation anxiety to explain why gender dysphoria might develop, then the answer is yes. You could argue that some individuals are biologically predisposed to develop gender dysphoria. Having issues with separation anxiety might then act as a stressor to trigger the disorder.

      If a biological male is brought up as a female they may still have a sense of male identity and this would create dysphoria.


  2. Tamara August 11, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    Hello :) This page was very helpful, thank you.

    I was just slightly confused by some of the wording of the examiner’s report for the question asking for the biosocial approach to gender, and was hoping you could shed some light (if you don’t mind) . The report (Jan 2013) said that:
    “Few students referred to Money’s support for the use of hormones in conjunction with socialisation, while other answers were unclear on implications for the biosocial model. ”

    Are they trying to get across that you must emphasise the interaction, or am I missing something? Also, what ‘implications as such are they referring to?

    Thank you very much .

    • Cara Flanagan August 11, 2014 at 7:37 pm #

      Hello Tamara

      Yes, the text you quote is commenting on the fact that students failed to describe an interaction. They described Money’s theory but failed to refer to his use of hormones’. The ‘implications’ means linking the social and bio bits from Money’s theory to it being a biosocial model.

      Let me know if you are still uncertain.


      • Tamara August 11, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

        Hello Cara,

        Thank you very much for the reply :) that makes a lot more sense. I think I was quite nervous making notes for this section, as the examiners explicitly say it is a poorly answered question.

        Thanks again, really appreciate it.

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