Skip to main content


PSY3042 : Sex Differences and the Brain

  • Offered for Year: 2019/20
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Gareth Richards
  • Owning School: Psychology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 5.0


The module will aim to provide an overview of research related to the causes of sexually differentiated human behaviours, and to introduce and discuss the strengths, weakness, and ethical considerations associated with methods used in the field. The module will further aim to explore the usefulness of studying sex differences for our understanding of a range of clinical conditions.

Outline Of Syllabus

Sex Differences and the Brain will cover biological, evolutionary, and societal processes that underlie human sex differences in a range of behavioural and clinical outcomes. A focus of the module is to explore the effects of early (i.e. prenatal and early postnatal) sex hormone exposure, and how this may relate to developmental outcomes later in life.

Topics include:
- why study human sex differences?
- Evolution of sex: Fundamental sex differences, and their consequences for sexual selection and parental investment
- Biological, societal, and evolutionary influences on human sex differences
- Partner choice and mating strategies
- Sex differences in choosiness, and short-term and long-term mating strategies
- Physical attractiveness, symmetry, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio
- Organisational and activational effects of sex hormones
- Methods for measuring the effects of early sex hormone exposure (e.g. disorders of sex development, measurement of hormones from amniotic fluid and umbilical cord blood, twin studies, digit ratio [2D:4D])
- Prenatal androgen theory of autism spectrum conditions
- Sex differences in psychopathological and developmental conditions (autism, ADHD, eating disorders etc.)
- Sex hormones, cerebral lateralisation and handedness
- Testosterone and aggression

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion321:0032:00Preparation/completion of essay and poster presentation
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture121:0012:00Weekly
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading102:0020:00Reading recommended at each lecture
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching61:006:00Discuss papers and present research
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study301:0030:00Independent reading/research
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The course lectures provide the information required for achieving Knowledge Outcomes 1 and 2. They will also provide references to other materials useful for developing a greater depth of understanding of the topics covered. The lectures further afford opportunities to seek clarification and to ask questions relating to the course. In addition, a weekly drop-in session with the module leader will be made available. This will provide students with further opportunities to discuss topics that are relevant to the module.

Small group teaching sessions provide opportunities to dive deeper into the issues and concepts presented in the lectures. Students will prepare for these by reading one or two pre-specified papers; the sessions will then allow for discussion and exchange of ideas (Knowledge Outcomes 3 and 4; Skills Outcome 1). Topics covered will include the efficacy of using a range of different research methodologies, ethical practices in science, and how to design studies to examine the effects of prenatal sex hormones. Students will also have opportunities to evaluate/critique each other’s essay plans (Skills Outcome 2), and to deliver short conference-style presentations in small groups (Skills Outcome 3). These activities will help prepare students for the assessments encountered later in the course (Skills Outcome 4).

Directed research and reading is used to point students in the direction of important learning materials. Independent study is then required to seek out further literature from which to develop a greater depth of knowledge.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M70One 2000-word essay (selected from three essay questions)
Poster2M30One poster presentation of published study relevant to themes addressed in module.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The essay will be used to assess students’ knowledge and theoretical understanding of the topics covered on the course. It also provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate their academic writing skills, as well as their abilities to critically evaluate studies and theories, and to synthesise findings from the research literature. Development of these skills can be important for a range of settings, such as when undertaking clinical training or postgraduate study.

The poster presentation will be used to evaluate students’ abilities to create and present a conference-style research poster. It also provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the subjects discussed, as the presentations will be followed by short question/discussion sessions. The ability to design and present a poster, as well as to think on one’s feet whilst answering questions about it, are essential for a range of career paths. For instance, it may be useful to have gained prior experience if required to make a presentation in front of a boardroom or at an academic conference. Students will be evaluated on the quality of their poster, their evaluation skills and their understanding of the subject at hand.

Reading Lists