Male Monkeys May Be More Nurturing

Nurturing monkey.

Nurturing monkey.

Women are more nurturing?

They may be. But culture—not biology — may well be the cause.

Might our primate cousins shed some light on this nature-nurture debate?

When it comes to primates, which sex is more nurturing depends on culture, not hormones says University of Toronto anthropologist Frances Burton: hormones are the same throughout the species yet there is no universal pattern to how different tasks are divided, including infant care.

Males may intimately nurture infants. Or they may be hands-off, doing little to no parenting. It depends on the troop. 

In some troops of macaque monkeys the males groom, carry and protect infants. In one instance a male sniffed, licked, caressed, patted, and held an infant. He also chattered to it and encouraged the baby to walk. Younger males — and only males — imitated him. In fact, young females were kept away so that the young males could learn their role.

Interestingly, when an infant is born the members of it’s community are very interested in its sex, and make an effort to touch, hold, sniff or lick the genitalia.

So it could be that once a newborn’s sex is determined, it is steered toward a particular social role.

But there is more evidence that primate females are not the naturally nurturing sex.

nurturing-monkey-2Turning to ververt monkeys, researchers found that when it came to playing with a nurturing toy, like a stuffed animal, all of the monkeys were interested whether they were male or female.

And among rhesus monkeys, prenatal testosterone levels seem to have no affect on interest in infants.

When a male’s androgen receptor was blocked it was no more interested in infants than other males. And when a female was exposed to higher levels of testosterone in utero, she was no less interested in infants than other females.

But here’s something interesting: despite this evidence, the researchers were reluctant to dismiss prenatal hormonal influences. Which looks like research bias.

The evidence goes against conventional wisdom — and a stereotype that favors men.

If women are the natural nurturers, they should stay home with children. And out of arenas that would bring money, power and status.

Source: Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on February 1, 2017, in gender and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Hi my dear, this is so interesting. Thanks so much for sharing. Best wishes. 💜💜💜

  2. Yeah but taking care of children also enables us power to raise the children in the direction that we wish, thus allowing us some more influence (in that particular arena) on the next generation.

    I realized this when I saw an MRA say that men should take on more childcare so that they raise children to be MRAs. I was like, ummmmmmm, no thanks I’d rather do most of the childcare lmao

    Of course everybody should have the choice to do what they do best.

    • The nurturing role has its benefits and its drawbacks. For both women and men.

      It’s good for everyone to be nurturing. We like people better who are nurturing. Everyone benefits from being nurtured. Stronger bonds of love and connection are felt by all parties– nurturer and nurtured.

      The drawback: you lose money, power and independence.

      Since women and men are likely equally capable of nurture and independence/power in the world I believe that everyone would be better off if those things weren’t divided up by gender.

  3. Also, I have a few questions, if you don’t mind. From your description:

    “I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women’s studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.”

    It seems like I may want to pursue a path similar to yours. So some questions:

    Was the PhD worth it?

    What do you do while you’re still on the pathway to earning your PhD? To gain experience, make money and such.

    And is the pay good? Haha

    • Given what I want to do in life, Teach and write, the PhD was worth it– In Enabling both.

      So you take a lot of interesting and thought-provoking courses and have a lot of conversations in these courses. There is a ton of reading — you learn to skim and pick up the main points or you can’t get through it all. And you write a masters thesis and a PhD dissertation and defend it. It’s all very interesting and a very growing experience. And it’s a lot of work.

      Is the pay good? Ha ha.

      It depends on what you do with your PhD. If you are full-time faculty at a community college (lowest pay) I think you start at about $70,000, So not too bad. A tenured professor at a top school makes about $200,000 a year. But there are other things you can also do: write, do research for marketing companies, work with exhibits… But you can make money doing these things with just a Masters degree.

  4. Fascinating post. I love it!

    However, I kind of hate to mention this, but I’m sure you know that the two creatures in the pic labeled “Nurturing monkey” aren’t monkeys. They’re chimps–apes. I suppose I’m too much of a purist in that area.

  5. I’m really glad that my wife taught me to be nurturing… or rather she insisted on it… My wife was a stay at home mom while I worked. We had two small sons, and my wife insisted that I should be the one to bath and put them to bed at night… Her rationale was that she was with them all day and they needed time to bond with me… Looking back, I’m so glad that she did… These were some of the best moments in my life!

    • Same thing with my brother. He is a naturally nurturing person anyway — no surprise after seeing this research. But his wife also really needed a break from staying home with kids all day. His nurture is good for my brother and good for his kids!

  6. Un bel article que voila !
    Bisous de France

  7. Firstly, you’ve got a picture of a chimpanzee labelled as a monkey. A chimpanzee is not a monkey.

    Secondly, imagining that the behaviour of monkeys tells us anything about humans is very speculative.

    Thirdly, even if we just assumed that monkey nature is the same as human nature, this tells us absolutely nothing! If males are genetically predisposed to be less nurturing than females, and yet this predisposition can be overridden by environmental factors, then the fact that male monkeys in different environments behave differently tells us nothing about whether the genetic predisposition exists. In fact, the very fact that your article says there are monkey troops where males are less nurturing virtually guarantees the conclusion that there is a genetic disposition. It’s not like we have reports of troops where females are less nurturing. The only valid conclusion is that males are genetically predisposed to being less nurturing, but this can be overridden to some extent by the environment.

    • I agree that monkey nature does not equal human nature. And I often argue that. But evolutionary psychologists often do assume that monkey nature equals human nature.

      And maybe I wasn’t clear but that actually isn’t the point. This is: Primates are our closest relative, and as a lower species they are more instinctual, and yet the female sex is not the more nurturing sex.

      And take a look at the post I wrote after that.

      It’s not important that the picture is an actual monkey. I went to Google images, googled nurturing monkeys, and that’s what came up. The picture changes nothing.

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