Predicting sex differences using sex and gender identity

All the sub-components of mental toughness were entered into a series of regression analyses to examine whether sex or gender identity were better predictors of scores on these constructs. Interestingly gender identity (masculine identity) predicted mental toughness over and above sex for all the sub-components of mental toughness and overall mental toughness.

The results suggest that a masculine gender identity is a better predictor of mental toughness and is more closely associated with mental toughness than a feminine identity. It is important to note that whilst a masculine gender identity was correlated with, and predicted variance in mental toughness, the variance explained by this identity was relatively small. It is possible that other predictors such as cognitive skills, academic ability and other personality characteristics would also predict adolescent's mental toughness. Future research could include a range of additional enquiries to tease out the relative importance of
sex/gender identity versus other traits in predicting mental toughness in adolescents.

What is interesting from the results of this study is that there appears to be a blurring of the boundaries between masculine and feminine gender identity with girls identifying with both masculine traits and feminine traits. However, for boys this was not the case as boys identified mainly with masculine traits.

Table 3. Regression analysis predicting mental toughness constructs with sex, masculinity and femininity as predictors.


Sex, masculine and feminine traits


Sex Masculinity










Sex Masculinity









Control emotion

Sex Masculinity









Control life

Sex Masculinity









Confidence in abilities

Sex -0.123* -0.115

Masculinity 0.199*

Femininity 0.073

R2 0.015 0.057

(Continued) Table 3. (Continued).

Sex Sex, masculine and

feminine traits

Confidence interpersonal




Masculinity Femininity R2



-0.005 0.15

Mental toughness

Sex -0.129* -0.60

Masculinity 0.397**

Femininity 0.029

R2 0.017 0.168

Note: * p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01. Values for sex, masculinity and femininity represent final beta values.


This study examined gender identity as a predictor for sex differences in adolescent mental toughness and furthermore examined the relationship between masculine and feminine traits and mental toughness. The results are interesting as they suggest that both boys and girls identify with masculine traits. However, although identifying with masculine traits girls also identified with feminine traits but boys did not identify with feminine traits.

Stereotyping is a normal cognitive process that enables us to categorise the enormous amount of information we experience during childhood development. From birth to adulthood individuals are exposed to informal, potent impressions of the role it is anticipated that they will play in society. Parents and significant others cultivate masculinity and femininity by encouraging children to behave in ways and develop interests that are perceived as appropriate for the child's sex. When a child goes to school the peer group provide additional information regarding what is acceptable or unacceptable within one's own sex-role. Sex-role development consists of acquiring a gender identity, an awareness of what it is to be male or female. Much of what we consider masculine
and feminine is learned via socialisation. Bandura (1977) described the role of direct reinforcement and modelling in shaping children's sexrole behaviour and attitudes. In this way socialisation and achievement experiences may play a pivotal role in the development of sex differences in mental toughness (Meece, Glienke & Burg, 2006).

Socialisation takes place at home, in the locality and at school. Eccles, Adler, Futterman, Goff, Kaczala, et al., (1983) expectancy-value model includes a parental socialisation component which highlights important pathways by which parents affect and influence children's motivation as important role models. The same may be true for mental toughness. Sex-role beliefs evolve into sex-role stereotypes when particular behaviours are applied to all males and females within a culture. Stereotypes of Western femininity comprise expectations of females to be domestic, kind, attractive, emotional, dependent, lack physical strength, and be passive. In contrast, males are perceived as being competitive and less emotional and masculinity stereotypes are perceived as being unemotional, physically strong, independent, active, and aggressive. Parental attitudes, post-school opportunities, gender roles portrayed in the media and existing inequalities by gender in the family and workplace have all been shown to influence young people's attitudes and aspirations, thereby influencing their behaviour and performance (Tinklin, Croxford, Ducklin & Frame, 2001).

Research has examined the influence of gender identity on boys' and girl's attitudes, beliefs and behaviour (Connell, 1998; Jackson, 2002–2003) and suggests that schools are crucial in the development of gender identity as they offer a complex medium through which gender identity is developed via discipline, group influence and subjects offered (Connell, 1998; Jackson, 2002–2003). Although the academic curriculum has been cited as being influential in establishing and reinforcing gender identity, the hidden curriculum is possibly more influential during adolescence. The hidden curriculum concerns everything that happens in the school that is not officially organised by the school, for example, social relations in the classroom or grounds, friendships, relationships between teachers and students, bullying and other social interactions. It is via the hidden curriculum that students convey messages, which reinforce socially accepted gendered behaviour. Thus school culture builds on established stereotypes and may reinforce gender identity during adolescence. Children spend a substantial proportion of their waking time in school and the significance of peer-group pressure in
schools and the implications of this on adolescents' behaviour has been widely debated (Renold, 2002; 2004). Gender identity as a product of adolescent culture therefore offers a plausible explanation for any reported difference in mental toughness of boys and girls.

Additionally, self-perceived gender trait possession has been found to contribute significantly to observed sex differences on cognitive tasks on which boys usually perform better than girls. For example, Hamilton (1995) found that gender trait possession helped to explain performance on a three-dimensional mental rotation task. Androgyny was the important gender trait variable. In addition, gender trait measures were the only significant variables in differentiating performance on the Group Embedded Figures Test, with masculinity being the important gender trait variable (Hamilton, 1995). It is reasonable to posit that mental toughness is developed as a masculine trait in the same way.

Sex roles and gender identity are changing. In the early 1960s men and women showed a strong acceptance of gender stereotypes (Rosenkrantz, Vogel, Bee, Broverman & Broverman, 1968) but the social roles of men and women began to change during the 1960s and, according to recent research, current attitudes towards women reflect those changes (Prentice & Carranza, 2002). Prentice and Carranza (2002) also reported changes in the stereotypes for women but not for men; women were perceived as having both the traits associated with stereotypical gender roles as well as the traits necessary for achievement in non-traditional occupations. Which supports the findings of the current study. Interestingly this has also been reported elsewhere as Diekman and Eagly (2000) suggested that the traditional perception of gender differences is changing, and that changes in women's roles are occurring at a faster rate than for men. These studies indicate that attitudes towards women have become more feminist and also egalitarian over the past twenty-five years, suggesting that there has been some changes in the traditional stereotypes of women, but that attitudes towards men have not shown the same changes. It is interesting that the current study also revealed that females are taking on a masculine identity whilst still retaining a feminine identity and this more than sex differences explained the differences reported in mental toughness. The stereotype for men seems to be more stable, and men may be the victims of more stringent and resistant stereotyping than women.

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