Behaviourist Approach-social learning theory

Psychological Explanations of Gender

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  • Created by: Jade
  • Created on: 23-05-11 09:58

Behaviourist Approach-Social Learning Theory

According to S.L.T most behaviors are learnt through a process of observation and imitation. 

You identify with people, such as parents, siblings, t.v characters etc, and these people/characters are then called role models. This imitating behaviour is referred to as modelling.

Social Learning Theorists also study the effects of reinforcement on whether or not people choose to imitate others or not. Studies show that we are more likely to imitate people if the imitative behaviour is rewarded. Research also shows that we take into account of what happens to other people who do the behaviour when deciding if we want to copy them or not. This is known as vicarious reinforcement.

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Operant Conditioning and Gender

Parents may positively reinforce (via compliments) actions/behaviours. For example, their daughter wearing a dress but not when wearing jeans. They may cheer for their son when he scores a goal in football but not if he leaves the pitch crying.

Reinforcement also takes place for gender appropriate toys.

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Social Learning Theory Evidence

Lytton and Romney (1991)

Carried out a meta-analysis to look at the parental treatment of boys and girls. It supports the claim that boys and girls recieve dif. reinforcement for activities deemed to be sex appropriate.

Fagot (1978)

Parents deliberately shaped child's behaviour using attention and praise as reinforcement.

Margaret Mead (1930's)

Cross-cultural study of three tribes. Found that dif. cultures have dif. gender roles which would suggest that gender is not biological but due to upbringing. 

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The Family

A consistent finding is that fathers treat their children in a more gendered way than mothers (Maccoby 1990). Typically fathers act in a more instrumentaland achievement orientated way, and give more attention to sons. Mothers however, attend equally to sons and daughters (Quiery 1998). 

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Playmates also play an important role in reinforcing and regulating gendered behaviour:

Langlois and Downs (1980). When boys played with girl's toys, they were likely to be ridiculed and teased by their male peers.

Archer and Lloyd (1982) children as young as 3 criticised peers who engaged in cross sex play and were less likely to play with them.

It is therefore no surprise that sex dif. in childrens behaviours appear first of all in social settings (Maccoby 1992) so the girl who is quite happy playing with cars at home is less likely to do it in the playground and more likely to join the girls in the wendy house.

Harris (1998) and Durkin (1995) believe that peers play a more important role in gender role reinforcement than parents.

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The Media

Manstead and McCulloch (1986) found strong evidence for sex role stereotyping in British T.V advertisements in a content analysis. They found that females are more likely to be in adverts for domestic products, to be dependant, to give opinions, to be a user of the product and to be in the home. 

Morgan (1982) did a longitudinal study of teenagers over two years, he found a link between TV viewing and traditional attitudes to females amongst females. Found that girls who were heavy viewers more likely to think women happiest in home. However, it was longitudinal and thus we don't know what they watched plus there may be other factors.

Wober (1987) did a survey of 334 twelve year olds and got their views on occupations suited to men and women. Found that the results reflected the occupations shown on TV which suggests that TV influences children. However does TV portrayal reflect real life?

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The School

How might school environments reinforce gendered behaviour?

1) Role models shown to children

2)Reinforcement of gender stereotypes through subjects

3) Reinforcement of gender stereotypes through praise

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