Sex gender identity and mental toughness

Myfanwy Bugler, Helen St Clair-Thompson, and Sarah McGeown

Sex differences or gender differences have been investigated in educational research for quite some considerable time; however the distinction between the two is often unclear. Sex refers to the

differences between males and females at the biological level, whilst gender refers to the characteristics that are usually associated with being male or female. Gender identity refers to the extent to which an individual identifies with the stereotypical norms of a particular gender. The concepts of “male” and “female” are relatively easy for people to understand because these words relate to biological differences and need no explanation. But the concepts of masculine and feminine are much less closely related to biology and thus much more difficult to separate into two distinct categories. However, these dimensions seem important, and psychologists have attempted to conceptualise and measure masculinity and femininity. This has proved to be a difficult task and after many years the concept of androgyny, that is, having both masculine and feminine characteristics has appeared as an addition to the conceptual framework.

Sex differences in mental toughness

Little research has examined sex differences in adolescents' mental toughness, but when sex differences have been examined, differences are rarely found (Clough & Strycharczyk, 2012). However, in one study examining the association between mental toughness, performance, behaviour, and wellbeing (Clough, Earle & Strycharczyk, 2008) significant sex differences were reported, with males reporting higher levels of mental toughness. The authors posited that this could be the result of cultural differences in that the local area treated boys and girls differently according to social norms. Further analysis of the results was conducted analysing teacher assessments of both students' mental toughness and behaviour in addition to students' self-reported mental toughness scores. Analysis of teacher assessments of student negative behaviour revealed that teachers did indeed view boys and girls differently. Teachers associated challenging behaviour (a sign of mental toughness) as negative when exhibited by girls more so than when exhibited by boys. Therefore teachers penalised girls for challenging behaviour rather than recognising it as mental toughness. In addition, when low levels of mental toughness were found, teachers significantly identified negative behaviour in boys more so than in girls. The researcher's conclusions were that teacher perceptions of what was appropriate behaviour for boys or girls accounted for the reported sex differences in mental toughness in this study.

Interestingly, sex differences in mental toughness have also been revealed in a sports setting. For example, Nicholls, Polman, Levy and Blackhouse (2009) found that males reported significantly higher levels of mental toughness than females, with age and experience in their particular sport predicting higher levels of mental toughness. It was suggested that this reported sex difference could be due to variations in the underlying expression of the attributes related to mental toughness in males and females or alternatively it may reflect different socialisation processes (Nicholls, Polman, Levy & Blackhouse, 2009). In addition, more recent research investigating mental toughness in athletes reported sex differences with male athletes reporting significantly higher levels of mental toughness (Crust & Keegan, 2010). However, males tend to be more confident than females and as confidence is a key component of mental toughness (Clough, Earle & Sewell, 2002) this may explain these results.

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