gender schema theory


Gender schema

  • Martin and Halverson agree with Kohlberg that a child's thinking is at the basis of their development of gender role behaviours.
  • They suggest that children's understanding of gender increases with age.
  • They also share the view that children develop their understanding of gender by actively structuring their own learning, rather than passively observing and imitating role models.
  • However, they argue that the process starts much earlier than Kohlberg suggested - children learn pre-programmed gender schema between age 2-3.
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Gender schema theory

  • Schemas are mental concepts that develop via experience and are used by cognitive systems to organise knowledge around particular topics.
  • A gender schema is a generalised representation of everything we know about gender and gender-appropriate behaviour.
  • According to Martin and Halverson, once a child has established gender identity around the ages of 2-3 years, he or she will begin to search the environment for information that encourages the development of gender schema.
  • The schema helps the child make sense of the world i.e children form stereotypes of the ways that they think males and females behave.
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Gender schema theory

  • Children go on to develop scripts of activities and/or actions that males and females perform.
  • Children monitor their environment for information and behaviours that are consistent with their ideas of appropriate male and female behaviour and add or assimilate this information into their thinking.
  • If a behaviour is considered inconsistent, they may just ignore it so that their stereotypes or schemas don't ned to be altered- they need to be able to predict behaviour and stereotypes allow them to do this.
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In-groups and out-groups

  • Children have a much better understanding of the schemas that relate to their own gender- they view their own group as the 'in group' and the opposite as 'out group'
  • In group identity serves to increase the child's level of self esteem.
  • Boys play close attention to boy's toys, pay minimal attention to anything 'girly'. Girls focus actively on girly things and avoid anything perceived as 'boyish'
  • Children look to the environment to build gender schemas.
  • It is not until children are a little older (age 8) that they build more elaborate schemas for both genders.
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evidence supports gender schema theory

  • Martin & Halverson found that children under the age of 6 were more likely to remember gender-consistent information than they were gender-inconsistent.
  • Researchers showed 5 and 6 year olds pictures of people carrying out activities. Sometimes these pictures were schema-consistent and sometimes they were gender-inconsistent.
  • Findings showed that recall for schema-consistent pictures was generally good. However, when schema inconsistent pictures were recalled they were often distorted so that the expected sex was remembered as carrying out the activity.
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evidence limitation gender schema

Overemphasis on the role of the individual in gender development:

  • Does not display enough attention to the role of social factors such as parental influence, surrounding culture (school and media). 
  • It also ignores the role of reward and punishment- rewards and punishment shape behaviour and are likely to encourage gender-stereotyped behaviours in children. 
  • Emphasises how schemas develop but not why gender schemas develop and take the form they do 
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Evidence supports gender schema theory

  • Little and Martin found that children under the age of 4, who showed no sign of gender stability or constancy, nevertheless demonstrated strongly sex-typed behaviours and attitudes.
  • Campbell and Poulin-Dubois et al have shown that children pay attention to same-sex role models much earlier than Kohlberg suggested. Young children turn to gender roles before they can speak.
  • This research contradicts Kohlberg's theory but is consistent with the predictions of gender schema theory.
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