kohlberg essay

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Outline and evaluate one or more cognitive developmental theories of gender development.
(25 marks)
Psychologists have considered many explanations of gender development in an
attempt to understand how our awareness of gender emerges and the effect it has on
our behaviour and on those around us.
One of the main theories in this field was developed by Kohlberg as an extension of
earlier research by Piaget. His theory emphasises how a child develops both an
understanding of gender and gender appropriate behaviour; this increases with age.
This theory is based around three "stages of gender identity development." It
states children's discovery of whether they are male or female helps them to identify with
other members of the same sex; this is differs from other theories such as the Social
Learning Theory and the psychoanalytic theory which suggest it is the other way round.
The first stage is known as `Gender labelling' and occurs when the child is
between 2 and 3.5 years old. It is at this stage that the child becomes aware of their own
sex as male or female. This enables them to categorise others also but the information is
fragile and they don't yet have the understanding that it is permanent - boys will always
become men and girls will invariably become women.
The second stage is known as `Gender stability' and occurs between 3.5 and 4.5
years old. At this age children can normally recognise that people retain their gender for a
lifetime, however they still rely on superficial signs to determine gender - such as hair
length or clothes. They still understand gender as situational dependant.
The third stage and final stage in the development of gender identity is known as
`Gender consistency' and is achieved by around the age of 4.5 to 7 years. This is when
children realise gender is immutable. This means gender is conserved regardless or time
or situation so even if a woman cuts her very short she will still remain female.
Once gender consistency has been achieved the child will become aware of
attitudes and behaviours that are gender appropriate. They find that acting in these ways
are rewarding and self fulfilling and so this behaviour is reinforced. Kohlberg famously
stated in 1966, "I am a boy, therefore I want to do boy things, therefore the opportunity to
do boy things (and gain approval for doing them) ... is rewarding." At this stage they also
begin to identify with adults who possess the qualities they see as being most important
to being male or female themselves.
Evidence suggests that the basis of Kohlberg's theory seems correct. Thompson
(1975) found children demonstrated behaviour consistent with Kohlberg's stages. Children
aged 2-3 could apply gender labels correctly to themselves and others which is
consistent with Kohlberg's `Gender identity' stage.
There is also cross cultural evidence supporting the theory as found by Monroe et
al. (1984) finding the same sequences of stages.
Sably and Frey (1975) investigated the age at which children reached Kohlberg's
`gender consistency' stage. They showed support for the sequential order of his stages
but raised questions over this factor as well as differences between boys and girls when
attending to same sex models. They divided 2-5 year olds into `high' and `low' gender
consistency groups. The children were shown a silent film of adults performing simple
activities with the screen split with males performing the activity on one side and females
on the other. Children with `high' gender consistency ratings showed a greater tendancy
to attend to the same sex models, measured by the amount of visual attention given to
each side of the screen. This supports Kohlberg's idea that gender consistency is a
cause of imitation of the same sex rather than affect of such behaviour. However,

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There is a major problem with Kohlberg's theory by which it predicts there is little or
no gender appropriate behaviour before gender consistency is achieved. Yet in reality
gender role behaviour is shown by most boys and girls by their second birthday - which
according to Kohlberg is several years before stage 3 is achieved. This suggests that
gender consistency may be established earlier but the infants are unable to verbalise this
due to limitations on language.…read more

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