Kohlberg's Cognitive Developmental Theory

  • Created by: Emma
  • Created on: 22-10-15 18:17

Kohlberg's Cognitive Developmental Background

Piaget's Influence:

Draws on the Piagetian idea that the way we think changes as we get older because of physical changes in the brain.

As we get older, the brain becomes more capable of increasingly complicated and abstract thinking

This means that changes in gender thinking are solely the outcome of age-related changes in a child's cognitive capbilities

As consequence development occurs in stages, as a gradual process


Refers to ability to understand that, despite superficial changes in appearance, basic properties of an object remain unchanged

Ability appears at age 6 or 7

Inability to conserve occurs because young children cannot distinguish between appearance and reality- they believe that what you see represents what is true .

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Kohlberg's Cognitive Developmental Theory A01

Stage 1: Gender Labelling
Occurs between age 2 and 3
Children label themselves as either a boy or a girl, a man or a women
Based on outward appearance only such as hairstyle
Gender labels will change as appearances change
Pre-operational thinking i.e. lacks internal logic, superficial logic but not internally consistent

Stage 2: Gender Stability
Age 4, recognise consistent over time boys--> men, girls -->women
Gender concept is one of stability so don't understand gender is consistent across situations
Children under 7 are still swayed by outward experiences

Stage 3: Gender Consistency
Age 6, children is consistent across situations--> full gender constancy
Key feature at this stage a child will begin to learn gender appropriate behaviour
Up to this point, not relevant as child believes his gender will change

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Kohlberg's Cognitive Developmental Theory A02 (2)

Criticisms of Kohlberg's Theory

Age Underestimated: Slaby and Frey suggested that gender consistency appeared at younger ages, as young as 5. Not direct challenge but suggests adjustments necessary

Gender Difference: Slaby and Frey found that boys reached gender consistency before girls, Hutson suggested this could be because it was easier for girls to carry out masculine activities but harder for boys to carry out feminine type activities.
Difference explained using social learning theory, role models that boys identify are more powerful and power determines how likely a person is to identify with a role model. Girls less likely to identify with role models as they are less powerful, although gender appropriate.
Secondly, as suggested by Langlois and Downs, boys are more likely to be punished for gender inappropriate behaviour than girls and therefore learn it quicker.

Gender Schema Theory:
GST suggests that children can acqurie information about gender-appropriate behaviours before gender constancy is achieved, supported by Martin and Little

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Kohlberg's Cognitive Developmental Theory A02 (1)

Research Support:

Gender Labelling: (Thompson) found that 2 year olds were 76% correct in identifying their sex whereas 3 year olds were 90% correct. Showing an increasing ability label themselves

Gender Stability: (Slaby and Frey) asked young children questions such as "Were you a little girl or oy when you were a baby?" and "When you grow up will you be a mummy or daddy?" Answers showed that children didn't recognise gender was stable over time until they were 3 or 4 years old

Gender Consistency: (Slaby and Frey) Asked "If you play football would you be a boy or a girl?" and "Could you be a boy/girl if you wanted to be?" Found that those who scored highly on both stability and consistency showed greatest interest in same-sex models. Suggests increasing sense of constancy leads children to pay more attention to gender-appropriate models furthering gender development

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Kohlberg's Cognitive Developmental Theory IDA and


Other approaches:

Biological approach propoooses that the key factor in gender development is genes and hormones, cognitive developmental approach makes no mention of the influence of hormones and genes, suggesting that changing the way people think can alter gender behaviours but evidence suggests that whilst thinking may change, behaviour doesn't. For example, many couples agree on sharing domestic duties but in practice this doesn't happen prehaps because division of gender roles has a biological rather than psychlogical basis. Alternatively may be learned through reinforcement (social approach) which views gender development as a passive process and the outcome of direct and indriect reinforcement from parents, peers and the media, whereas the cognitivie developmental approach emphasises the active role of children in acquiring their gender concepts.


Bem criticises the way gender constancy is measured, suggesting its assessing the childrens understanding of our social cues for indicating gender i.e. clothes

Martin and Halverson suggest that with Slaby and Frey's questions children were adopting a 'pretend' mode and answering questions based on this.

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