Kohlberg's cognitive developmental theory - psychological

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Gender constancy theory - A01


Lawrence Kolberg's theory draws on the Piagetian idea that the why we think changes as we get older because of physical changes in the brain. The brain becomes capable of increasingly complicated and abstract thinking. This means that changes in gender thinking are soley the outcome of age-related changes in a child's cognitive capabilities.

The conseqence of this is that development occurs in stages. Children naturally progress from one stage ti the next as their way of thinking matures. 

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Gender constancy theory - A01

Stage 1: GENDER LABELLING -The first stage occurs between the ages of two and three. Children of this age label themselves and others as a boy or a girl, a man or woman. This label is based on outward appearance ONLY, such as hairstyle or what a person is wearing. Children will change the gender labels as appearences change (he has long hair so must be a girl). Towards the end of this stage children not only can label others but will also label themselves as a girl or boy.

Stage 2: GENDER STABILITY - At the age of around four, children recognise that gender is something that is consistent over time, boys grow into men and girls grow into women. Thus their gender concept is one of stability but it does not yet recognise consistency. They do not understand that gender is also consistent across situations, believing instead that males might change into females if they engage in female activity. Children under the age of 7 are still swayed by outward appearences. In terms of gender, children of this age believe that a person must be a girl if they are wearing a dress i.e. if they appear to be a girl they must be a girl. They lack the ability to conserve . McConaghy found that when young children were shown a line drawing of a doll where the male genitals were visable through the doll's dress children under the age of five judged the doll to be female because of its external appearence despite evidence it was a boy

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Gender constancy theory - A01


In the final stage if gender development, around the age of six, children come to realise that gender is consistent across situations. Thus they have now developed full gender consistancy ( constant across time and situations). The key feature of this stage is that it is only at this point, when a child has aquired gender consistancy, that they start to learn about gender-appropiate behaviour. Up until the stage of constancy such information is not really relavant because the child believes that his/her gender may change. 

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Evaluations - Research support

GENDER LABELLING - Evidence for the age of gender labelling comes from Thompson who found that 2 year olds were 76% correct in identifying their sex, whereas three year olds were 90% correct. This shows an increasing ability to label themselves, as predicted by Kohlberg's theory

GENDER STABILITY- was investigated by Slaby and Frey. They asked young children questions such as 'were you a little girl or a boy when you were a baby'  and 'when you grow up will you be a mummy or a daddy' The answers given by children showed that they did not recognise that these traits were stable over time until they were three or four years old, as kohlberg predicted.

GENDER CONSISTANCY - was also supported by Slaby and Frey. This time they asked a different set of questions such as 'if you played football would you be a girl or a boy?' and 'could you be a boy/girl if you wanted to be?' They found that children who scored high on both stability and consistency showed greatest interest in same-sex models. This suggests, as Kohlberg predicted, that an increasing sense of constancy leads children to pay more attention to gender-appropiate models, furthering gender development

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Evaluations - Criticisms of K theory

AGE UNDERESTIMATED... Slaby and Frey did find that gender consistancy appeared at a younger age than Kohlberg had suggested, as young as 5. This is not a direct challenge to the theory but suggests that adjustments are necessary to the ages.

GENDER DIFFERENCE... Slaby and Frey also found that boys tended to exhibit gender consistancy before girls and HUSTON points out that it is relatively easy to get girls to take on masculine-type activities but the same cannot be saidof boys who generally resist, for example dressing up as a girl

This difference can be explained in terms of SOCIAL LEARNING THEORY. The role models that boys identify with tend to be more powerful (males in society have greater power). Power is one factor that determines how likely a person is to identify with a role model. Therefore, girls are less likely to identfy with their role model because, even though the role models are gender appropiate they are less powerful  A second reason may be that boys are more likely to be punished for gender inappropiate behaviour than girls and therefore learn appropiate gender behaviour more rapidly. This means that Kohlberg's theory is incomplete because SLT principles are also involed. 

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Evaluations - Criticisms of K theory

Research studies may not be testing what they intend to test (i.e. lack validity) 

BEM gave children 3-5 years a gender conservation task - they were shown pictures of a nude child and then the same child dresed gender inappropriately- Those children who assigned gender on basis of clothing (i.e. no constancy) also tended to fail a genital knowledge test, this suggests that they were not failing to conserve gender because they lacked an understanding of consistency but they failed because there was nothing to conserve.

BEM also argued that the original task used to test gender conservatino is nonsense - when children were asked to resolve a contradiction between genitals and clothing, the child goes for the cue that is most salient in our society i.e.clothes

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