Psychological + social approaches to Gender

  • Created by: ava.scott
  • Created on: 08-04-15 15:36

Kohlbergs theory of gender consistency


The child recognises that they are male or female but the knowledge is fragile, and they may not understand it is consistent.


The child knows that they retain their gender for a lifetime but still rely on superficial signs to determine gender.


They realise gender is permanent. They can now value behaviours and attitudes associated with their gender and identify adults with these qualities.

  • The theory says that children are the agents in their own socialistation; their thinking determines when and how they show gender roles.Once they reach gender consistency, then they imitate sex models and follow gender appropriate behaviour.
  • This is called self-socialisation.
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Gender consistency: IDA

Nature v nurture

The theory actually has an element of both. 

The nature side comes about in that ALL children must go through each stage, within the ages given. This is biological and determined in our genes to go through these stages when our brain is mature enough.

The nurture aspect relies of the socialisation that occurs after constancy is reached; children will use the environment around them to build stereotypes.

This could be seen as positive for the theory because it gives a realistic interaction of nature and nurture interacting. A focus on nurture also makes socialisation more flexible, which could allow for more open and less rigid gender roles in the next generations.

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Gender consistency research: Slaby and Frey

Slaby and Frey 1975-

Asked questions when showing the children pictures of a boy and a girl. 'Which one are you?' (to measure gender identity), 'Will you be a mummy or daddy when you are older?' (to understand gender consistency).  3 year old didnt understand any concepts, 4 year olds understood identity, and 5 years old understood all three concepts.

Seems to show that the stages exist, but the age boundaries Kohlberg decided on were not accurate (e.g. a 5 year old under stood consistency, when the youngest should be 7)

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Gender consistency research: Martin and Little

Martin and little-1990

3-5 year olds had very little understanding of gender yet had strong gender stereotypes/gender appropriate behaviour. Therefore only basic understanding of gender is needed to effect gender specific behaviour.

This is bad for the theory because it shows that children do not need to reach gender consistency before forming gender specific stereotypes, and this is a key element of Kohlbergs theory.

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Gender consistency research evaluation


  • Critics say that the questions are not a true measure of gender understanding, but of verbal coherence and language understanding. However, the questions in Slaby and Freys study were relatively simple, and age appropriate.  They also have very categorical answers, so there isnt room for researcher interpretation and bias.
  • Easy to repeat as questions can be asked again.
  • Demand charatceritsic and artifical settings: The children may have acted differently in a laboratory environment, or with a strange researcher leading to problems with the ecological validity.

The research isnt stong at all for this theory. Both the age boundaries he gave to the stages, and the vitalness of gender concistency before stereotypes are shown to be wrong. The research is compelling in its scientific basis, and so the theory can be said to be weak.

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Gender Consistency: wider evaluation


  • Lead to scientific research around gender development

BAD 5 points:

  • but the studies didnt support the theory, and they are difficult to vaildate due to demand characteristics and social desirability bias.
  • There are few practical applications for the theory, as its suggests that children have to go through the stages at the times they are biologically determined too.
  • However, blames the child if gender dysphoria occurs, as they must take part in their own self-socialisation. However, this could also be a positive thing, as it could empower children to work for acceptance.
  • It fails to explain gender dysphoria or why some children reach stages at different times.
  • SLT could be a better explanation- boys reach consistency quicker due to stronger stereotypes, wich are punished if not shown.
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Gender Schema theory AO1

  •  The Gender schema theory is based on the idea of mental frameworks that help people organise and understand information. They allow you to make decisions about your behaviour in situations.

  • Children don't need to understand that gender is permanent to develop gender schemas; they usually develop around 2 to 3 years old, when the child can accurately label and identify genders.

  • There are two types of sex-related schema; the 'in-group, out-group' schema and the 'own-sex' schema. The first allows children to identify items for each gender, and then apply this to their own sex schema e.g. Dolls are for girls. I am a girl. The doll is for me.

  • Schemas simplify the world for us, and allow children to manage all the information and complex ideas thrown at them,

  • The schemas made can vary from culture to culture, so this theory gives a flexible view of gender.

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Cogntive: Adaption processes AAE


Using existing schema to deal with a new object or situtaion.


This happens when an existing schema doesnt work and has to be changed to deal with new information.


The force that moves development along. The interaction between assimilation and accomodation-- a uncomfortable state occurs when assimilation cannot occur, so accomodation fixes this.

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Gender Schema IDA

Nature v Nurture

Looks at both, but mainly focuses on nurture.

Although we have innately developed the ability to create gender schemata, but these can only develop under social and environmental pressure. This means they can be useful organisation for people.

This helps explain cultural gender differences and so is practical and applicable in helping us create more tolerant views on gender.

However, it still ignores the biological explanation, which has a lot of research and proof. This make sthe theory less compelling.

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Gender Schema Research: Martin and Little

Martin and Little studied 3-5 year who had little understanding of gender and consistency, but very strong stereotypes.

On face value, this is good for the theory, as it seems to say that children associate stereotypical ideas around gender very early on, before genuine understanding of gender occurs.

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Gender Schema research: Martin, Eisenbud and Rose

Martin, Eisenbud and Rose found that 4-5 year old children would not want to play with toys which were labelled as 'for the opposite sex' e.g. a magnet.

This is potentially good for the theory as it displays how the two schemas of 'in and out groups' and own sex interplay, creating a mental representation. Their idea of gender is threatened by the idea of them playing with another genders toy, as they only understand the stereotypes and not that their gender is consistent.

However, it could also be explained by social learning theory; the children have been told that these toys are not for them, and so they do not want to play with them.

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Gender Schema research: justifying toy choice

study showed that children used much more sex-oriented answers when asked to justify choosing toys for other children, but when justifying a choice for themselves, they focused more on the toy and why they wanted to play with it.

This is challenging for the theory because it suggests that the 'own-sex' schema isn't as strong, as the in and our group schemas, because children are more worried about how the other children think of them, than their own idea of their own gender.

Perhaps the social pressures are actually what lead to such strong defence of stereotypes, rather than schemas. This seems to support SLT more than schema theory.

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Gender Schema research evaluation

  • Children are very susceptible to demand characterstics and social desirability bias, making them difficult to generalise to the realworld, reducing ecological validity.
  • The studies don't seem to specifically describe the gender schema theory and can often relate to the social learning theory. This makes its difficult to fully justify the theory.
  • Previous ideas around the toys (e.g. martin, eisenbud and rose) may have affected the decisions about the toys. These conceptions could have a number of origins. Lowers internal validity.
  • However, it is still an improvement of Kohlbergs consistency theory, which has been shown by research to be innaccurate.
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Gender Schema wider evaluation

  •  It is a good insight into why children cling so tightly on to stereotypes and tend to ignore information that contradicts their schema of gender. This is because the schema organsies their world and to contradict it would be confusing and even threatening of their own gender identity.
  • It also helps us understand why older children are less rigid in their stereotypes than younger children e.g. they will take in the dislikes and likes of a child when deciding the toy for them, rather than just their gender. Femininity and masculinity are separated from being female and male.
  • There are also practical applications- gender is more flexible as schemas rely on information from parents and teachers. This means we could grow up a generation of children and adults who are more tolerant of different genders and stereotypes.
  • Alternatively, you could say these stereotypes will be very difficult to remove, as children need them so badly to organise and understand the world. Children will always be rigid in their ideas of gender.
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Socializing Agents

Informal socializing agents: 

People who are in close contact with the individual such as parents, siblings and friends. 

Formal socialising agenst:

More distant organisations or entities that exert an influence on behaviour. Such as schools, the media.

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Research into Parents: Hagan + Kuebli, Friedman

Hagan and Kuebli

  • Investigated how parents influence gender differences in young childrens risk taking behaviour. Eighty 3-4 year olds climbed across a 1.5 foot high beam, and their mother and fathers were observed while supervising.
  • Fathers of girls were more attentive than fathers of boys, but mothers were equally attentive to both genders.
  • Other research also shows that fathers behaviour is more sex-discriminatory than mothers behaviour.


  • Tested mothers gender attitudes and their comments about gender and their young childrens stereotypes beliefs.
  • 74 mother-child pairs were analysed.
  • A content analysis of the mothers talking about a gender related story was carried out.
  • Mothers used more counter-stereotypic comments about girls than boys.
  • Mothers gender attitudes predicted sterotypical attitudes in 3-5 year olds but not 6-7 year olds.
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Research into schools: E&D , B

Evans and Davies

  • Looked at books published in 1997 in America for first, third and fifth grade students.
  • After content analysis, they found that although there were roughly the same amount of boys and girls in books, they were presented differently.
  • Boys were more aggressive and competitive, while females were more passive and emotionally expressive.


  • Teachers were asked to split their classes into gender groups or colour groups.
  • 4 weeks later, children in all-gender groups showed more gender stereotypical behaviour than the control colour group.
  • This suggests that peers and school environment have a large impact on socialisation of gender development. In mixed groups, less stereotypes developed.
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Social influences IDA

Nature v nurture

Social influence research focuses on entirely the nurture side of the debate. It looks at the effect of the individuals environment and peer groups. This limits the theory, as the biological explanation has tons of research that positively justifies it. The social research also struggles to control for genetic heredity within their studies around the influence of parents.

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Evaluating research into parents

The studies have quite low face validity, as they do not look directly at how the parental attidtude affects the childrens in future years, under all conditions.

Western bias- the studies were both carried out in America, which may have very different stereotypes, and responses to stereotypes than in other cultures. This reduces the populational validity of the research, and so it is less generalisable.

The Hagan/Kuebli study may show that people are more cautious of girls, and that mothers should be more aware of both children than fathers. This could create biases in the chidlrens brain- but it could also be a natural biological difference for fathers to be more attentive of girls.

However, the Friedman study shows that mothers opinions and comments could not predict attitudes in 6-7 years, but only younger chidlren. This shows that parental influence may be less significant in older children/adults.

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Evaluating research into schools

Western bias- all research was carried out in American schools, which may have more or less influence over its students than other countries.  Other culture books may give a different stereotype for male and female characters.This makes the research less generalisable.

Biglers research is ecologically valid as it is a field study (reducing artificality and demand characteristics) but it also lowers internal validity.

Biglers also displays how easily children can be influence by formal influences, as they soon became loyal to their coloured group.

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Social influences wider evaluation


  • PRACTICAL APPS: These two influences are easy to change via policy (in schools) or information (for PARENTS.)
  • By informaing parents on how to reduce gender bias in their behvaiour, it may create less bigotry and sexism in society.


  • Doesn't control for biological explanation in any studies.
  • Research is based on western ideals and stereotypes only.
  • Reductionist- both influence of school and parents and biological factors may play a role in the gender stereotypes that evolve in children. It is close minded to say that only one does.
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Cultural influences on labour

Division of labour

  • In most cultures, men hunt and otherwise provide resources while women look after children & prepare food. Could this influence the gender stereotypes?
  • Munroe & Munroe found in a cross-cultural study that every society has some division of labour between genders.
  • Wood and Eagly found that in pre-industrialised societies, men have a larger role in providing food and women were more likely to be child-minding.
  • This universality suggests that gender roles are biological rather than cultural. (CULTURAL INFLUENCE IS MINIMAL?)
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Cultural influences of conformity


  • There is a general consensus across cultures that women are more conformist than men.
  • However, this difference varies across cultures: Berry et al. reported that differences in conformity between men and women are highest in tight, sedentary societies. This shows a cultural influence on gender role.
  •  In societies where women contribute a lot to food accumulation, women have more freedom and are regarded less as objects for male sexual and reproductive needs.
  • Women thus occupy a higher position within the social group and have more power and less need to conform to the wills of more powerful members of society.
  • This further supports the role of cultural influences.
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Cultural vinfluence on aggression


Mead found that in all three cultures she studies in Papua New Guinea, men were more aggressive than women. However, women were more aggrressive in some than other.

This suggests that there is a degree of cultural relativism in gender roles: aggression in men is innate and universal, but the degree to which aggression is expressed is relative to each culture.

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Cultural research evaluation


  • High population validity as they look at many cultures
  • Natural study so no artificiality.


  • Western/researcher bias- the studies were carried out by western researchers so their preconcieved cultural biases may have had an effect of their reports. IMPOSED ETIC.
  • Low control
  • Demand Characteristics; Mead's work was criticised as the people just told her information she wanted to hear. This would make her conclusions invalid.
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Cultural influences IDA

Deterministic/nature v nurture

It says that gender roles are purely social and not based on biology. The differences between cultures, but also the simialrities show that there is definietly a complex interaction between nature/biological and nurture/cultural influences.

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