Gender schema theory

Gender schema theory


  • Martin and Little (1990) found that children under the age of 4 showed no signs of gender stability let alone signs of gender constancy, but did display strong gender stereotypes about what girls and boys were permitted to do. This suggests that they have acquired information about gender roles before Kolberg suggested, in line with gender schema theory.
  • A number of studies do not support Kolbergs idea. For example: Bussey and Bandura (1992) found that boys and girls aged 4 said they felt good about playing with gender appropriate toys and awful about playing with gender inappropriate ones. Kolberg would suggest that this wouldn't happen until later.This suggest that the gender schema theory may be a more accurate explanation of a childs gender development.
  • If gender schemas are important in acquiring information about ingroup gender then we would expect children to pay greater attention to information consistent with gender schemas and remember this information better, Martin and Little (1983) conducted a study to support this idea. They found that when children were asked to recall pictures of people, children under 6 recalled more of the gender consistent ones (male firefighter) than gender inconsistent ones (male nurse).
  • A study conducted by Bradbard et al (1986) shows how gender schemas are related to memory. They told 4-9 year olds that certain gender neutral items (eg. pizza) were boy/girl items. Participants took greater interest in the items that were labelled as their ingroup. Also, one week later they were able to remember more details about ingroup objects.


  • However, there are some weaknesses of the gender schema theory. Hoffman (1998) found that children whose mothers work have less stereotyped views of what men do. This suggests that children are not entirely fixed on gender schemas and can take on some gender inconsistent ideas. Furthermore, Eisenberg et al found that 3-4 year olds justified their gender specific choice of toys without reference to gender stereotypes.
  • A big limitation of this theory is the issue of individual differences. Gender schema theory cannot explain why different children with much of the same environmental influences respond differently to gender appropriate behaviour. For example, this theory cannot explain why some girls may prefer action figures and some boys may prefer barbies. This may be due to biological differences such as genes and hormones, which the gender schema theory ignores.




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