- Socialising agents such as parents, peers, school and the media may influence a person’s gender roles either by directly or indirectly reinforcing gender appropriate behaviour. Firstly, parents may have fairly fixed views about what is appropriate conduct for males and females and strong ideas about how their little girl or boy should behave. This means that parents will reinforce their children differently according to their gender and therefore affect the gender roles that their child acquires. This is due to the fact that the child will try to act accordingly to their parent’s reinforcement in order to please their parents.
- Peers are another factor which can influence our gender development due to the fact they are a relatable model of gender-linked behaviours, and provide feedback when the individual steps outside what is accepted as 'appropriate' behaviour for that gender. Children tend to associate themselves with same-gender peers, perusing gender-type activities. In these interactions children reward one another for gender-appropriate activities as well as punishing gender conduct that is considered inappropriate for their gender and upon this reward or punishment a child’s gender roles will develop in accordance.
- Furthermore media plays a large role in influencing gender roles, the media generally portrays males as independent, directive and pursuing engaging occupations and recreational activities. On the other hand women are usually shown as acting dependent, unambitious and emotional. By the media displaying the sexes in this particular way, people will sequentially adopt the roles displayed as being gender appropriate to them and act accordingly. These socialising agencies will all in turn influence the gender roles a child acquires and develops in adult life.
+ There is considerable evidence to support the role of social influences on gender roles, therefore strengthening the explanation. For instance Smith and Lloyd (1978) observed mothers playing with an infant who was either presented as a boy (in terms of name and clothing), or as a girl. The results of the observation showed that mothers selected gender-appropriate toys (e.g. a doll for the girl or squeaky hammer for the boy) and also responded more actively when a 'boy' showed increased motor activity.
+ This differential reinforcement supports the assumptions of the theory as it shows how from a young age children are treated differently according to their gender therefore suggesting that this differential treatment, which the study shows was displayed by parents, shapes the gender roles a child develops. These differences in how mothers treat different sexes could explain why social learning has such an impact upon gender development.
+ Due to the fact there is supporting evidence which upholds the main assumptions that social influences shape our gender roles it can be argued that the theory is valid, as such we can be sure that social influences do in fact exert a strong influence on a person's gender roles. This can therefore be useful in a wider context as it can be used by psychologists dealing with people with gender identity disorders to help establish a cause for their disorder and therefore help find a solution.
- However there are also methodological issues with this research, in turn negatively effecting the explanation of social influences shaping gender roles. Due to the fact the study was a laboratory experiment the overall ecological validity of the findings are reduced, this is due to the study being conducted in an artificial setting and therefore does not represent a real life situation.
- Due to this the results cannot easily be generalised to other settings and in turn make it inaccurate to conclude that this behaviour would occur in a real life setting. As the ecological validity is weakened it also reduces the overall validity of the explanation of social influences on gender roles, therefore we cannot definitely conclude that social influences are the prime cause of gender role development.
- The social cognitive theory by Bandura (1991) is an adaptation of the social learning theory as it instead puts an emphasis upon the role of cognitive factors and uses them to explain gender development. He suggested that gender role development is subject to three major models of influence; modelling, enactive representation and direct tuition.
- Modelling involves cognitive representations of the modelled activities and abstractions of the underlying rules of the modelled behaviours. For modelling to influence gender role development, children must first have the ability to class males and females into distinct groups, to recognise similarities in their behaviour, and to store those behaviours as abstractions in their memories in order to guide their own behaviour.
- Enactive representation suggests that as children gain mobility they become more capable of acting on their environment and this enables them to have enactive experiences. This increases the number and variety of the social reactions they experience from those around them. These social reactions are reinforcing and are important sources of information for the development of gender roles.
- Lastly direct tuition refers to explicit instructions about appropriate gender behaviour; it begins as children acquire linguistic skills and serves as a convenient way of informing children about different styles of conduct. However the impact of this tuition is weakened when what is being taught is contradicted by what is modelled.
+ Bandura's bobo doll study provides supporting evidence for both learning and modelling. It demonstrates the effect of adult behaviour on children’s behaviour. Although this study shows the development of aggressive behaviour it can be used to support the fact that children from 3-5 years use adults as a source of how to behave in same situations.
+ Bandura also found that boys responded more to the behaviour that men presented to the doll, and girls responded more to the women’s actions. In turn this study provides evidence for the reliability of the social cognitive theory due to consistent supporting evidence.
- However, there are methodological issues too, for example it could be argued that Bandura's study had low validity as the children may have been aware of the true nature of the study so therefore displayed demand characteristics. Supporting evidence for this speculation comes from Noble (1975) who reported that one child was heard saying "look mummy, that's the doll we have to hit", due to this we cannot be sure that the children behaved in a way which they naturally would when presented to a similar situation.
- This therefore makes it difficult to establish a cause and effect relationship between the social cognitive theory and gender roles as the validity of the study is compromised. In turn conclusions drawn from such studies should be used with caution. Also this study shows the principles of the social learning theory and its effect over aggressive behaviour and may therefore not be applicable to the role it plays in gender development. This therefore suggests that the study does not fully represent the influence social learning has over gender roles.
- It could be argued that these theories are reductionist as research focuses on the cognitive approach; subsequently it only looks at the cognitive side of why gender roles develop and ignores the role of genes and other factors. A strength of this is that it encourages the psychologist to focus in detail and allows evidence to be gained into how this one variable affects behaviour.
- However it can also be considered a weakness as the research does not take into account the role of genetics, which suggests we are predisposed to a gender role because of the genes we have inherited. Therefore we are unable to draw a whole conclusion on how gender roles have developed due to it being simplified down and missing out the role of vital factors.
- Because of this an interactionist approach should be taken whereby a combination of factors are taken into account when studying why behaviour occurs, as this in turn would make an explanation more valid and useful in a wider context e.g. in treatment of gender identity disorders.