Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences, Vol. 16, Iss. 2, April, 2012, pp. 159-184
@2012 Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & Life Sciences


Gender Consistency and Flexibility: Using Dynamics to Understand the Relationship Between Gender and Adjustment

Matthew D. DiDonato, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Carol L. Martin, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Eric E. Hessler, University of Minnesota, Duluth, MN
Polemnia G. Amazeen, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Laura D. Hanish, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Richard A. Fabes, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

Abstract: Controversy surrounds questions regarding the influence of being gender consistent (i.e., having and expressing gendered characteristics that are consistent with one’s biological sex) versus being gender flexible (i.e., having and expressing gendered characteristics that vary from masculine to feminine as circumstances arise) on children’s adjustment outcomes, such as self-esteem, positive emotion, or behavior problems. Whereas evidence supporting the consistency hypothesis is abundant, little support exists for the flexibility hypothesis. To shed new light on the flexibility hypothesis, we explored children’s gendered behavior from a dynamical perspective that highlighted variability and flexibility in addition to employing a conventional approach that emphasized stability and consistency. Conventional mean-level analyses supported the consistency hypothesis by revealing that gender atypical behavior was related to greater maladjustment, and dynamical analyses supported the flexibility hypothesis by showing that flexibility of gendered behavior over time was related to positive adjustment. Integrated analyses showed that gender typical behavior was related to the adjustment of children who were behaviorally inflexible, but not for those who were flexible. These results provided a more comprehensive understanding of the relation between gendered behavior and adjustment in young children and illustrated for the first time the feasibility of applying dynamical analyses to the study of gendered behavior.

Keywords: gender typicality, gender flexibility, adjustment, dynamical systems