Gender Development:
Social Theories

Prepared by Ethel Cantu

Based on Gender: Psychological Perspectives, 3rd Ed

 Linda Brannon, Allyn & Bacon 2002


Social Learning Theory

l   Emphasizes nurture

–   Contribution of the social environment to learning gender-related behaviors

l   Based on operant conditioning

–   Reinforcement increases gender appropriate behaviors

–   Punishment decreases gender inappropriate behaviors

l   Sees development as continuous


Social Learning Theory

l   Adds observational learning

–   Children use cognitive processes to choose appropriate gender-related behaviors

–   Observe wide variety of models: real & images

–   Imitate behaviors of those they choose

l Power & prestige

l Similarity: more likely to imitate same-sex models


Social Learning Theory

l   Consequences of observed behavior

–   Imitation more likely if observed behavior is rewarded

l   Differential treatment by adults, esp parents encourages gender appropriate and discourages gender inappropriate behaviors

–   Children develop gender knowledge & gender standards for own behavior


Social Learning Theory

l   Learning through observation is cognitive

l   Performing is behavioral

l   Whether behavior is performed depends on observed consequences & beliefs about gender appropriateness

l   Critique is that children are portrayed as too passive


Cognitive Developmental Theory

l   Children use active cognitive processes to acquire gender-related behaviors

l   Based on Piaget’s stages of cognitive development

–   Preoperational  (2-4 yrs)

l Transition (5-7 yrs)

–   Concrete operational (7-12 yrs)

–   Formal operational (12- adult)



Cognitive Developmental Theory

l   Preoperational (2-4 yrs)

–   Thinking is concrete, not logical, judges on appearance

l Gender labeling

– Knows there are two sexes
– Applies labels to self & others, but inconsistent
– Uses cues such as dress, hair
– Can change sex if appearance is different


Cognitive Developmental Theory

l   Preoperational (transition 5-7 yrs)

–   Develop categories associated with sex/gender

–   Value and imitate same sex behaviors more

–   Rigid interpretations of gender behaviors


Cognitive Developmental Theory

l   Preoperational (transition 5-7 yrs)

–   Develop gender identity

l Identify themselves as male or female

l Strive to be consistent with this identity

l Develop gender categories

l Use stereotypes as rules


Cognitive Developmental Theory

l   Concrete operational (7-12 yrs)

–   Thinking is logical, but limited to concrete

–   Belief in gender constancy (permanent)

l Cognitive understanding of permanence of gender

l Leads to development of gender appropriate attributes

l Less rigid in application of stereotypes


Cognitive Developmental Theory

l   Formal Operational (12 –adult)

–   Thinking is scientifically logical, can be applied to abstract concepts

–   Adolescents become more rigid in sex-typing

–   Cognitive developmental theory can’t account for this


Cognitive Developmental Theory

l   Critique

–   Emphasizes gender constancy as primary force

–   Research has not confirmed this

–   Treats gender as any other cognitive category

l Fails to explain why sex is more important category than others, such as race, religion, eye color


Gender Schema Theory

l   Children develop schema for gender

–   Cognitive structures that organize & guide perception

l   Gender-related behaviors are result of:

–   General cognitive development &

–   Adoption of gender schemata


Gender Schema Theory

l   Children develop schemata of masculinity & femininity in their culture

l   Schemata guide their cognitions

–   Influence information processing

–   Influence problem solving

–   Influence memory

–   Regulate personal behavior

l   Schemata used to develop self-concept


Gender Schema Theory

l   Process is more important than content

–   Gender-schematic children behave in more gender-typical ways than gender-aschematic

–   Gender-consistent information is better remembered than gender-inconsistent

–   Memories are changed to be consistent with gender schemata


Gender Schema Theory

l   Leads to gender stereotyping

–   Easier to classify behavior, people, objects

l   More manageable & predictable

–   More prone to errors

l   Inaccurate perceptions

l   Failure to accept information that doesn’t fit stereotype


Gender Schema Theory

l   To raise gender-aschematic children

–   Eliminate gender-related messages

l   Occupations, household chores, colors, activities

–   Teach about biased messages re: gender

–   Emphasize biological rather than social dimensions of sex

–   Substitute individual differences schema for gender-related differences schema


Gender Script Theory

l   Extension of gender schema theory

l   Children’s gender knowledge is organized in sequential form

–   Information processing & memory more accurate with own-gender rather than other-gender sequences

l   Building with tools, preparing dinner


Developing Gender Identity

l    Childhood

–    To 18 mos,  mistakes in gender labeling

–    2-3 yrs, accurate in gender labeling

–    3-6 yrs, add gender stereotype knowledge & gender preferences followed by gender constancy (stability & consistency)

l    Differences between girls & boys reflect socialization

–    Boys receive harsher, more rigid training


Developing Gender Identity

l   Adolescence

–   Stricter in application of gender stereotypes in early adolescence

–   More flexible in late adolescence

–   More tolerance & flexibility for self than for others

–   Perceive other gender in stereotypical ways

–   Family & peers influence flexibility


Developing Gender Identity

l   Adulthood

–   Gender flexibility increases with age

–   Increased willingness to make exceptions, esp for self


Gender Identity Disorder

l    Child rejects gender role that corresponds to biological sex; adopts cross-gender behaviors & identity

–    Experienced by more boys than girls

l    Gender dysphoria: unhappy & dissatisfied with one’s gender

–    Some seek sexual reassignment surgery: transsexuals

–    Not to be confused with homosexuality & transvestism

–    Do not usually have other mental problems

l   Is gender identity disorder a psychological disorder?