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Nature or Nurture

The Case of the Boy Who Became a Girl


Keith K. Schillo
Biology Department
SUNY College at Oneonta


This case explores the question of whether gender identity is determined strictly by genetics (nature) or social variables (nurture).  It is based on a true story about a man who was raised as a girl and later rejected the female gender identity.  The case is designed to help students think scientifically about sex and gender and introduce them to the concept of sexual differentiation. Although developed for an undergraduate course in human anatomy and physiology as an introduction to discussions of the reproductive system, it could be used in a general biology course as a way of giving students practice with critical analysis and making predictions based on theories as well as in a developmental biology course as a way to apply information from animal models to human sex and sexuality.

  • To present a fundamental "nature versus nurture" controversy.
  • To raise deep questions about sex and gender.
  • To provoke critical analysis of an important issue in sex research.
  • To introduce students to the concept of sexual differentiation of the brain and behavior.
Keywords: Gender; gender identity; sex; sexual differentiation; gender reassignment; David Reimer; Bruce Reimer; John Money
Topical Area: Ethics, History of science, Scientific method, Social issues
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division, Graduate, Professional (degree program), Clinical education
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Analysis (Issues), Directed, Discussion
Language: English
Subject Headings: Physiology   Biology (General)   Genetics / Heredity   Psychology   Sociology   Neuroscience   Anthropology   Developmental Biology  
Date Posted: 11/17/2011
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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Thanks so much for the case. I've presented this scenario in an ethics arena, but this is perfect for an Intro to Neuroscience class addressing Sexuality & the Brain.

Darlene M.
Georgia State
Atlanta, GA

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