In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sex and Gender

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies for Classroom Use
  • Handbooks
  • Books Suitable for Lay Audiences
  • Definitions and Language Use
  • Research Methods and Measurement Issues
  • Classic Works

Psychology Sex and Gender
Joan C. Chrisler, Alexandra Nobel Murray
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 June 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0054


Sex and gender are fundamental to the understanding of human behavior. Perhaps the first thing people notice when they are introduced to someone new to them is that person’s sex. From an evolutionary perspective, sex is so important to humans because it signals whether or not other people are potential mates. However, sex (i.e., biological aspects of physical bodies) is generally associated with gender (i.e., personality and behavior styles). From a social psychological perspective, gender is important because it is one of the variables that signals a person’s social status. People also rely on what they know about gender roles and stereotypes to make assumptions about how others will act; what their abilities, interests, and preferences might be; and what roles are most important to them. The assumption that women and men are very different from each other is built into the metaphors we use in our everyday language. The ubiquitous phrase “opposite sex” suggests that whatever men are (e.g., strong, aggressive), women are not (i.e., weak, passive); whatever women are (e.g., kind, gentle), men are not (i.e., mean, rough). Bestselling books such as John Gray’s Mars/Venus series and Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand suggest that women and men are alien species who cannot even communicate with each other. The search for sex differences has a long history in psychology, but recent research shows far fewer (and generally smaller) differences than were reported in the past. Societal changes caused by the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s–1970s have resulted in greater educational, athletic, and economic opportunity for girls and women. Gender roles have become less strict over time, although men and boys have changed less than women and girls have. The gay rights movement has resulted in changes in social attitudes and cultural portrayals of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people, and this has also contributed to changes in gender roles. In fact, transpeople and intersexuals have demonstrated the possibility that sex and gender can be separated in daily life, that people can choose their gender, and, in some cases, their sex as well. Changes in culture and society mean that the psychological study of sex and gender is a vibrant, active research area that crosses all subdisciplines in psychology. Researchers who specialize in the psychology of women; the psychology of men and masculinity; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) psychology all contribute to our understanding of sex and gender. Much of the work in this area is conducted from a feminist perspective because feminist psychologists interested in the psychology of women were the primary founders of the study of gender as we know it today.


The first textbooks on the psychology of women were published in the early 1970s, and textbooks on the psychology of gender followed about ten years later. Undergraduate courses on the psychology of women are more common than courses on the psychology of gender, but that may change if women’s studies programs continue to change their focus to gender studies and if the current growth in the literature on masculinity continues apace. Textbooks summarize and synthesize the current literature, and most begin with a historical overview of the development of the field. Although the obvious audience for these books is undergraduate students, the books are generally accessible to an educated lay audience and are of interest to professionals who need an introduction to or an update on the field. Cited in this section are some of the more recent, popular textbooks. Brannon 2011, Helgeson 2012, and Lips 2008 are all designed for courses on the psychology of sex and gender. They all contain information from related fields, but Brannon’s is best known for its cross-cultural approach. Wood 2011 is written from a communication studies perspective, but it is well suited to a psychology course.

  • Brannon, Linda. 2011. Gender: Psychological perspectives. 6th ed. Boston: Pearson.

    This book takes a biopsychosocial and cross-cultural approach to the study of gender. It includes personal narratives, which are especially engaging for students.

  • Helgeson, Vicki S. 2012. The psychology of gender. 4th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.

    This book takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of gender. The author focuses on social roles, power and status, and gender stereotypes across the lifespan.

  • Lips, Hilary M. 2008. Sex and gender: An introduction. 6th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

    This book takes an explicitly feminist, social psychological perspective on the study of gender. The author has an engaging writing style, and she includes cross-cultural perceptions on gender-role development, stereotypes, physical and mental health, power and status, intimate relationships, and gender in the workplace.

  • Wood, Julia T. 2011. Gendered lives: Communication, gender, and culture. 9th ed. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

    The author is a communications studies scholar, but her popular text includes strong coverage of social and developmental psychology. The book shows students how gender roles are shaped by contemporary culture. The emphasis is on media messages, verbal and nonverbal behavior, intimate relationships, work, and school.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.