Social Learning Theory Gender

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Introduction

According to SLT (Bandura) most behaviour is learned as a result of observation. It implies there are no psychological differences between males and females when they are born. Therefore, gender differences develop because of the way society treats the two sexes.

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Smith and Lloyd (1978)

  • Investigated whether mothers acted differently towards a baby depending on the percieved sex of that baby
  • They used 32 mothers who were told the study was investigating play. They were videoed playing with six month old babies. Sex-typed and sex-neutral toys were availible for play. Two male and two female babies were presented equally of their own sex and as the opposite sex using stereotyped clothes and names
  • Babies percieved to be boys recieved more encouragement to play actively. Only babies percieved to be boys were offered hammers initially.
  • Mothers were involved in the process of differential treatment of boys and girls. It was suggested that boys learn they should be strong and athletic through sex-typed play. Type of play was not dictated by the child, as boys and girls appeared content to play in masculine and feminine ways, depending on what sex they were percieved as being
  • Eval - there are some problems with this research. To avoid the mothers guessing the aim of the study, an independant groups design was used. Consequentially, it may be that the differences in the way mothers played with girls and boys were down to individual differences of the participants. Measuring play in terms of the 'first toy offered' and 'length of toy use' lacked construct validty. This was a very narrow way of measuring a complex behaviour. It also lacks temporal validity as mothers may not show the same level of stereotyping in today's society.
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SLT

Whether or not an observed behaviour is demonstrated depends on a number of factors, including the person's perception of their own ability and their understanding of the likely consequences.

SLT differs from traditional learning theory in that is doesn't automatically assume that behaviour will be performed as a result of association between stimulus and response. SLT acknowledges the role of the social context and key individuals like parents in the development of gender-related behaviour

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Gender-appropriate behaviour

The SLT argument enforces that individuals learn about gender-appropriate behaviour throughout their lifetime and from a variety of society

  • Idle et al (1993) found that fathers reacted more negativley to their sons' feminine toy play than mothers did
  • Fagot (1985) found that children were more critical of their male peers when they engaged in feminine activities than they were when their female peers engaged in masculine activities
  • McGhee and Frueh (1980) found that people who view a lot of television have stronger gender stereotypes than people who view less
  • Eccles (1987) found that teachers tend to praise boys for academic achievement and girls for tidiness and compliance
  • Pfost and Fiore (1990) found women in traditionally masculine occupations were evaluated more negativley than men in traditionally female occupations

There are many behaviours that make up an individual's gender. According to SLT, each of these have to be learned through the same processes. There are two main processess in learning: acquisition of behaviour and performing that behaviour

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The Acquisition of gender roles

The two conditions to acquiring a behaviour are:

  • Attention - eg, a boy watches his older brother playing football
  • Retention - eg, a girl recalls the things her mother does when preparing a meal

An individual learns their gender from the people that they come into contact with. Contact may be live (eg, family members, peers) or symbolic (eg, celebrities, musicians, characters in books).  All of these people are potential models

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Modelling

When models perform certain activies they are modelling behaviour. For example, a mother washes the family clothes. Modelling behaviours, whether intentionally or unintentionally, gives others the oppurtunity to learn from them. 

However, individuals do not simply copy all of the models they observe. People become role models when others identify with them. Acquiring gender-related behaviour, boys may model themselves on their father or a famous footballer.

A child will likely have several models whose behaviour they try and imitate. Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) referred to this process as self-socialisation, as the learning doesnt depend on the need for direct reinforcement from other people.

According to SLT, children are more likely to copy same-sex models. However, it was later recognised that this copying is not indiscriminate and there are several reasons why children choose to copy some people and not others. This understanding that a child activley chooses whether or not to model behaviour led to interest in the role of cognitive factors in social learning.

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Models

It's now thought the appropriateness of the model's behaviour is a more important factor modelling than whether the model is the same sex as the child (Golombok and Fivush 1994). 

Similarity - Models who are seen to be similar (eg, age or sex) are more likely to be copied

Status- high-status models like older brothers are more likely to be copied than low-status models

Attractive - Glamorous, sucessful, heroic models are more likely to be copied than unattractive models

Behaviour is appropriate - Behaviour seen as appropriate for the role is more likely 

Reward and Punishment - The model is more likely to be copied if they are seen to be rewarded

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Identification

This is the process whereby a child sees him or herself as somehow similar to a specific person who is seen as possessing attractive qualities or qualities seen to be rewarding. 

The child experiences a form of attachment to this person and aspires to be like the. Unlike imitation, identification imples some form of relationship between imitator and imitated.

There is evidence that an individual identifies more with same sex models (Bussey and Bandura, 1984). However, the level identification can also be affected by factors such as power, popularity and attractiveness. For example, if a teenage girl desires her favourite musician's status, she is likely to attend to that idol's behaviour. In contrast, if a boy doesn't admire his father, he isn't likely to pay much attention to what his father does, yet alone retain anything.

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The performance of gender roles

SLT argues that an individual ultimatley learns their gender role by acting in ways that they have seen their models acting

According to SLT, the two conditions to performing a behaviour are:

  • (motor) reproduction (when an individual is intellectually and physically capable of displaying a behaviour they have acquired)
  • motivation (when an individual has reason for displaying behaviour)
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Imitation

This occurs when a behaviour is reprodcued. For example, a young girl goes to her older sisters bedroom and attempts to put on make-up just like her sister does.

Not all behaviours are imitated. Individuals are more likely to imitate somone they identify with. They also need the self-efficacy (an individual's belief that they have the capacity to imitate a behaviour) to imitate that behaviour. Imitation is also motivated by reinforcement.

Imitation is the most efficient way of learning complex behaviours. It doesn't imply any special relationship between imitator and person being imitated. Simple obsevation can sometimes be sufficient for learning to take place.

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Reinforcement

This occurs when a behaviour is strengthed by positive outcomes. Eg, if a mother is happy with a girl for a behaviour, it is more likely to be reproduced, or a boy may extert aggressive behaviour in a boxing match if it wins him a prize. However, a girl may not imitate competitive behaviour for a prize as she may not identify with the model or the prize. 

Or, because of sex role stereotyping, she may not feel she is capable of competitive behaviour. She may avoid such behaviour beliving she will be punished as a result, as her parents may scold her for being unladylike. 

This shows Social learning is also affected by what directly happens to individuals when they imitate a behaviour.

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Reinforcement

When an individual imitates a behaviour, as they have seen it being rewarded elsewhere this is vicarious reinforcement, or they can be directly rewarded with praise.

The reverse of reinforcement is punishmentm and this also has a role. If a boy is ridiculed by his peers for playing with dolls, he may not do it again.

According to SLT, there is a point where certain behaviours do not have to be continually reinforced to be maintained - this is internalisation

internatilised behaviours become intergrated into a person's personality. In the case of gender, a erson's identity will be made up of behaviours they have learned through imitation and reinforcement. Once a person has a sense of their gender identity, this will dictate what kinds of behaviours they choose to display in the future. Social Learning is therefore an ongoing and dynamic process

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Evaluation of SLT

  • SLT does not account for changes in the development of gender understanding with age It assumes there is no process of gradual development in understanding
  • Many studies of modelling are unrealistic; they use adult models playing with toys or pretending in one context or another
  • If behaviour always arises as a result of imitation, it doesn't wasily explain the emergence of new trends in gender-related behaviour.
  • The theory doesn't easily explain gender differences between same-sex siblings. Two sisters have been raised in the same household by the same parents, but one may be more feminine than the other
  • SLT doesn't explain why children at a certain age (usually around four to five) often have more rigid views on sex-typed behaviour than their parents
  • SLT neglects the role of biological factors in gender development
  • There is no evidence that boys and girls are reinforced differently and children do model the behaviour of others
  • SLT emphasises the role of cohnitive factors in learning, acting as a bridge between traditional learning and cognitive theory. Golombok and Fivush (1994) suggest that the gap between social learning and cognitive explns of gender is now so narrow it no longer makes sense to seperate the two
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Evaluation of SLT

  • Cross cultural studies (such as Mead) support the view that gender is learned
  • Biological explanations would question whether gender is learnt. They believe it is largely pre-determined before birth. If gender identity is innate this would explain a number of phenomena that SLT cannot.
  • The cognitive approach would argue gender develops in stages. This goes against SLT as it implies that gender-related behaviour can develop at any point in an individual's life depending on their experiences. However, the cognitive approach has demonstrated that elements of gender are acquired at certain points in a child's lifetime regardless of their upbringing and environment. The cognitive approach also argues that imitation of same-sex role models occurs after gender is acquired.
  • The Psychodynamic approach would argue that gender develops in stages. It would also accuse SLT of focusing too much on behaviour an of ignoring the importance of the unconscious in gender development.
  • Critics are often concerned most SLT research is experimental 
  • SLT fails to explain where gender stereotypes come from in the first place. Even if it is true that behaviours are reinforced in males and females, why is it these behaviours rather than others? Animals also show similar traits. The fact that gender stereotypes are similar across cultures, would suggest gender is less to do with nurture.
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