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Sadhia Malik Gender schema theory
Describe and evaluate gender schema theory (8 + 16 Marks)
A schema is a mental representation of an aspect of the world often relating to past experiences.
Gender schema is the 2nd psychological approach which explains gender development; this theory
emphasises the role of a child's thinking in gender development. Bem (1981) and Marting &
Halverson (1981) both suggested that a child begins to form gender schema as soon as they notice
differences between male and female, this could be as early as 18 months.
A child's understanding of gender only needs to be very basic to learn sex role stereotypes and
show strong preferences for gender appropriate behaviour/ toys etc. There is supporting evidence
for the gender consistency, by Martin and Little (1990), they showed the basic knowledge needed
for sex role stereotypes, by giving 2 -5 novel objects labelled as `objects boys like' `objects girls
like', they rated what they wanted to play with by using a smiley face scale. Results showed a strong
sex type preference was found. This shows that children from a young age can tell the difference
between two genders, and the gender appropriate traits. There is supporting evidence for gender
consistency by Martin, he found that when children were asked to recall pictures of people, children
aged 6 could recall gender consistency and age ranges. This showed that children at the age of 6 are
able to distinguish between both males and females. It is now obvious that a schema is present from
a young age clearly due to the experiences the child has.
There is also another supporting study which explains that schema is present form a young age by
Kuhn et al (1978), they showed that children as young as 2 show knowledge of sex role stereotypes.
They suggested that by this age, we have this level of understanding, predetermined rather than
being learnt through external influences. This theory ignores the social learning theory which
suggests that behaviour is learnt clearly because it is deterministic; they try to prove only one theory
and do not take into account others.
Martin and Little carried out the study in 1990- almost 22 years ago; this is a major disadvantage
because it does not relate to today's developed societies, humans have evolved and now we see
more females working outside and men taking care of the young children at home, this is not taken
into account of in this study. Also this study does not take into account of the social learning theory
which states that all behaviour is learnt by observing others and often through reinforcement, this
study only states that basic sex role is learnt, not stating exactly how it is learnt.
Schemata develop to group information and form rules to understand the world, usually helping a
child understand where they fit and develop self-identity. This falls into the next factor where a child
identifies itself as an `in group' this is known as behaviours associated with this viewed as positive or
not being a part of the group is known as negative. Subsidiary evidence for preferences in gender
appropriate activities is shown by Kuhn et al (1978); they showed that children have a preference for
male activities, more avoidant to opposite sex and associates to it. On the other hand girls are
flexible concepts- reasoning could be social, biological or evolutionary. This shows that at a young
age children establish their own group and learn more about it. As more information is learnt schemas
widen and become more complex. This is when we develop what is known as `sex appropriate plans
of action' which direct our behaviour. This supports the gender schemas theory which states that a
child's understanding of gender needs only to be basic to learn sex role stereotypes and show
strong preferences for gender appropriate behaviour/ toys etc.
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Sadhia Malik Gender schema theory
There is another research support for gender preferences by Archer (1981), he also showed that
boys have stronger earlier preferences for male activities, more avoidant to opposite sex and
associations to it. Girls are again described as more flexible concepts, but although both Kuhn et al
and Archer have obtained the same results can we rely on these outcomes, as they are both
deterministic; they try to prove only one theory and do not take into account others.…read more