kohlberg's cognitive gender development theory

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  • Created by: h98
  • Created on: 24-11-15 20:30

kohlberg's gender development theory- 3 stages A01

stage 1: gender labelling [2-3 years]

  • understanding of gender is due to superficial characteristics e.g hair length
  • can recognise others gender and their own gender i.e. know they are either a boy/girl
  • but belive that their gender can change over time e.g boy believes he can grow up to be a woman

stage 2: gender stability [3-5 years]

  • understand that their (own) gender is constant over time e.g boy grows up to be a man
  • however belive that (other people's) gender can change across a situation e.g if a man wears a dress, they think he is a woman

stage 3: gender constancy [5-7 years]

  • understand that gender is constant across time and situations
  • cognitively ready to develop appropriate gender behaviour by observing and imitating same sex models, this us called self socialisation
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kohlberg's gender development theory- 3 stages A02


  • the theory includes evidence for both sides of the nature-nurture debate, nature- brain development, universal; nurture- observe and imitate model. Therefore it is less reductionist than other theories of gender development
  • research to support gender development theory by monroe et al: the 3 stages found by kohlberg were universal - occured in the same order in 6 cultures (e.g UK, Nepal, Samoa), provides support gender development based on biological maturation of cognitive structures


  • critics argue kohlberg underestimated the cognitive abilities of younger children in their understanding of gender, children play with gender appropriate toys as young as 2 and prefer same sex play mates around 3years, long before the theory predicts, therefore contradicting kohlbergs theory
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studies into kohlberg's theory

Slaby and Frey:

  • children[2-5yrs] were rated as high or low gender constancy, then watched silent film
  • screen was split in half- males on one half of the screen, females on the other half
  • found that those with higher rating of gender constancy spent longer watching the same sex adult models than those rated with low gender constancy


  • clearly supports kohlbergs claim that gender constancy is a cause of imitation of same sex models rather than a cause and that both cognitive and social factors influence gender
  • high control over extraneous variables, conducted in lab/controlled setting, children all watched the same silent film, increasing reliability and internal validity of the findings and supports kohlbergs theory of gender development


  • gender constancy based on ratings by researcher using gender constancy assessment, researcher prone to researcher bias, meaning research only offers partial support for kohlbergs theory of gender development
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studies into kohlberg's theory 2


  • studies children aged 3-4
  • given dolls with transparent clothing
  • when there was discrepancy between the dolls clothing and its genitals, the child decided on the dolls gender on the basis of its clothing


  • supports kohlbergs theory as it shows gender development is part of a maturation process because the children hadn't reached gender constancy stage by ages 3-4 so lacked cognitive skills to identify correct gender of doll


  • lacks ecological validity- artifical task of using dolls to interpret gender, bares little relevance to how they would identify gender in real life; therefore this research can only offer limited support for kohlberg's theory of gender development
  • research criticised as findings were not absolute as not all children used clothing to interpret gender therefore suggesting individual differences so no firm conclusions to support the theory
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