Human sexuality and gender expression is a continuum, much in the same way that height and weight are. Not everyone fits into the categories of strictly straight, strictly gay, male or female. Dichotomising sexuality and gender ignores the continuum or clusters of individuals who don’t fall into one of two (and only two) categories and we can fall prey to thinking that one is “normal”. While people may find comfort in the “born this way” argument, looking for a “gay gene” can indicate a level of non-acceptance. If the variation between individuals is collapsed to a binary then the focus becomes on asking why one end of the spectrum exists, when the better question would be to ask how variation in sexuality evolved and came about.
People often say that we are not born racist, however the truth is actually more complicated: new-born infants exhibit no preference for faces of various ethnic groups, however from the age of 3 months, infants begin to take longer to scan faces – indicating that they are thinking more about appearances – and exhibit a preference for faces of their parents’ (and own) ethnic group(s). These findings imply that while we may not be born racist, our perceptions of ethnic differences are learned during early development as a result of exposure to own- versus other-race faces. In this reflective piece, Catriona Nguyen-Robertson considers the neuroscience of racism as presented to the Society by Dr Larry Sherman, drawing parallels to her own experience as an Australian with a mixed heritage of Vietnamese and Scottish parentage.
It has long been a popular perception that risk-taking and status-seeking have evolved as masculine traits, as there is less selective pressure for women to develop a “competitive edge” and to take risks. Professor Cordelia Fine discussed the roles of men and women in society, particularly how their behaviour contributes towards “reproductive return” – their passing on genes to offspring and continuing their ancestral line. Scholars have previously reported on links between testosterone levels and risk-taking, their argument being that where men evolved a promiscuous streak to be competitive in order to acquire or defend their status and sexual opportunities, the female strategy has been more focused on ensuring they have enough resources to care for their offspring. As Professor Fine points out, however, women can be big risk-takers in their own right.