Gender: Cognitive Developmental Theory

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  • Created by: Tasha
  • Created on: 04-04-14 09:56

Cognitive Developmental Theory: Kohlberg

AO1: Outline

  • focus= how childrens thinking develops in stages
  • gender identity= percieved as outcome of children actively structuring own experiences
  • regards thinking and understanding as basis behind gender identity/ gender role behaviour
  • most important factor= child's level of cognitive functioning (see conservation)
  • childs discovery that male/ female causes them to identify with own sex
  • Kohlberg believed stages= universal= any difference in male and femal behaviour- due to cultural differences in what is percieved as masculine/ femanine


  • based on work of Piaget
  • As children develop their cognitive understanding- awareness that things stay same despite appearance (called Conservation)- once they understand conservation in objects- can understand a person's appearance does not change their sex
  • can classify and understand gender/ pay more attention to same gender role models and internalise their behaviour as they find it rewarding (self socialisation- children reinforce themselves) Gender identity is the cause of internalising gender behaviours rather than effect
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Kohlberg's Three Stages of Gender Development

Gender labelling/ identity- aged 2-3.5 years- awareness of gender but believes it can change

Gender stability- 3.5-4.5years- awareness that their gender is stable over time but not over situations eg. dress/ hairstyle

Gender constancy- 6years- realise that sex remains the same, regardless of time or situation. Actively seek role models and imitate and internalise their behaviour

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Debate to Evaluate the Cognitive Developmental The

Reductionist: the theory concentrates on cognitive factors and may overlook important cultural and social influences, such as parents and friends

Free will: your own thoughts and understanding cause gender development. However, not entirely free will as the stages of gender development are fixed.

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Approaches to Evaluate the Cognitive Developmental

Part of the cognitive approach: claims beliefs and internal thoughts cause gender and creates a staged model.

Contrasts the Social Learning Approach: states gender identity is outcome of children actively structuring their experiences, not a passive outcome of social learningBelieves children get their gender identity and then seek role models (opposite to social learning theory).

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Research Evidence: Slaby and Frey

Aim: whether children with higher gender constancy pay more selective attention to same sex role models

Procedure: fifty five children- aged 2-5years old- gender constancy assessed by questions- rated high or low gender constancy- weeks later- watched a short film of male on one half of a screen and woman on other half carrying out gender stereotypical activities- measured the time eyes were fixated on each half of the screen

Findings: higher gender constancy boys watched the male more- less so for lower gender constancy boys- selective attention stronger on high constancy boys than girls- both boys and girls spent more time watching the male

Conclusions: children with higher levels of gender constancy show more selective attention to same sex models than those with low gender constancy- supports the idea that it is gender identity which preceeds identification with same sex models- however girls dont support- gender bias

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Research Evidence: McConaghy, Munroe et al and Bem

McConaghy: children aged 3-5years shown dolls in transparent clothes- chose gender in terms of clothes despite contrasting genitals were clearly visable- supports children in gender stability do not know gender is fixed- make decisions on superficial features

Munroe, Shimmin and Munroe: cross cultural evidence of same sequence of stages in different countries (Kenya, Nepal, Belize and Samoa)- supports gender identity is a result of cognitive maturation process rather than result of social experiences

Bem: believes that children have awareness of gender specific behaviours from around two years- due to development of gender schemas- contradicts Kohlberg as it suggests we have internalised gender type behaviour before gender constancy- goes against Kohlberg's stages

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Methodological Issues and Contradictory Points

Methodological Issues: most evidence- points to idea children follow stages- disagreement as to when- may be explained by the research methods used- when children shown drawings of gender inappropriate changes being made- not able to realise that gender remains same (Emmerlich et al)- however- shown real pictures of children fist nude and then in gender inappropriate clothing- almost 50% of 3-5year olds knew gender had not changed (Bem)

Contradictory Points: Kohlberg's theory predicts little or no gender specific behaviour before children acquire gender constancy- but even in infancy- boys and girls show preferences for stereotypical male and female toys- children generally demonstrate gender appropriate behaviour and reward gender appropriate behaviours in peers- before they have reached gender constancy- casts doubt on Kohlberg's ideas of universal stages of development.

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Huston and Gender Bias

Huston: Kohlberg's theory- leads to prediction- of a close relationships between beliefs about gender and gender typed attitudes and behaviour- relationship isn't strong- weaker in girls than boys- meaning what they believe about gender roles is not necessarily reflected in behaviour

Gender bias (androcentrism): theory is more applicable to boys than girls- girls do not show same strength of relationship between gender constancy and gender typed behaviour. Gilligan- claims that famale participants of Kohlberg's study were judged using a male standard due to the gender bias of Kohlberg's original research- which was solely based on studying men.

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