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. 31 Comments.

  1. This article is interesting and a good new for me.
    If it is true, women and men have equal quality of nurture; people might less complain about women’s roles because people can’t divide roles by gender. That is the fact that mothers sometimes need free time to get away off staying home with kids all day.
    But mothers can’t say that because our society judges them as parental neglect or something wrong. So, if society accepts this fact, I believe that it would help for mothers.

  2. You said: ‘If women are the natural nurturers, they should stay home with children. And out of arenas that would bring money, power and status,’ and now times have changed, numbers are still low but among the moms and dads I interact with on a daily basis, more moms are going back to work sooner and dads are the ones taking on a not-so-natural role of being a stay at home dad or work from home dad while taking care of young. More women I know also have become the ‘bread winner’ of the family, which also leaves dad’s with more of the ‘natural’ responsibilities mom’s normally take on.
    It is so interesting to see that within certain monkey societies, it is actually the father caring for their young; could this be due to the fact that maybe the dad is better at protecting his baby while the mom forages for food? Observing different species of monkeys helps us to better understand ourselves as well since we are distant relatives. A mother being more nurturing really is a social construct and it’s unfair that women are seen as the more nurturing parent, and there is that pressure put on mom’s to be more nurturing, even if they weren’t raised or exposed to that type of parenting. Being a nurturing person is not a behavior we are born with, it is something we develop or it is dismissed depending on a person’s upbringing. I feel that we shouldn’t have that assumption that the mom will take on that role, because it robs men the opportunity to step up and show others that men can be capable of being the nurturer.

    • I suspect that women and men are both naturally nurturing, because that would best help the species to survive. But it doesn’t seem to be the case that women are the more naturally nurturing.

  3. This was a very interesting read for me. As it may come as a surprise to others, it sort of didn’t surprise me for this reason; why wouldn’t a male be more nurturing? If it wants to stay the dominant, it might be better for the male to be more nurturing to the male monkeys. But also for the young monkeys to know that the group that they are in cares for them, is also a real good aspect for males being more nurturing. It may also be a sign of showing that every monkey in the group is equally shown that they are cared for.

  4. This article was very interesting. Since monkeys are our closest relatives I would think they would have similar parenting styles, but this may have proved otherwise. I always thought that mothers tended to be more nurturing towards their children because they carried that life inside of them which formed a bond between them. But I also think that just from our culture men aren’t more nurturing because they aren’t looked at as a nurturer. Even though there are families that take on that same parenting style as the macaque monkeys where the father is a “stay-at-home dad”, it is not as common and can be seen in the eyes of some as negative. When it comes to women being stereotypically more nurturing I think it puts women at a disadvantage for certain aspects associated with men. Women who are more nurturing wouldn’t do as well as manager working in big business, or there this idea that women spend more time expressing their feelings and would waste more time, etc. This list goes on and on about how a woman’s natural instincts and personality traits aren’t seen as desirable in more male dominated roles, which makes women less likely to get these opportunities.

  5. 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.

  6. Un bel article que voila !
    Bisous de France

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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

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