Unit 3 Gender

Gender development: Psychological explanations

Gender development: Biological explanations

Social contexts of gender role

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  • Created by: Josh
  • Created on: 30-05-11 16:37

Cognitive Developmental Theory; Kohlberg (1966) Ge

Kohlberg (1966) gender consitency theory identifies 3 stages.

  • Gender Identity the child is aware that they are male or female, but think they're gender might change. Stage occurs between 2 and 3 years old.
  • Gender Stability the child realise their gender will remain fixed over time, However they may think gender can change in different situations. Stage occurs between 3 and 4 years old.
  • Gender Consistency the child is aware gender remains fixed in different situations. Stage occurs between 4 and 5 years old.

McConaghy's (1979) study showed that children in the second stage determined the gender of dolls by what clothes they put on and not by genitals. This shows belief that when the situation changes ie clothes so does the gender.

Munroe et al (1984) found the same stages in children from different cultures.

However the theory ignores effects of social influences and conditioning it also doesn't explain why this happens.

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Cognitive developmental theory; Gender Schema Mart

By the age of 3 children have developed a basic gender identity. They also have a gender schema which contains the child's ideas about gender appropriate behaviour. Through observation children continue to learn gender appropriate behaviours and add them to their schema. A childs gender schema is based on an in group and out group. Activites objects and behaviours associated with their own sex are seen as in group whilst those associated with opposite sex are seen as out group.

Having a gender schema can help children to manage all the information they're exposed to. They can focus on processing information related to their in group and filter out information related to their out group. However there are also disadvantages - reinforcing stereotypical gender roles can discourage children from showing interest in things related to their out group. This can limit their opportunities and lead to discrimination. There is some evidence to support the gender schema theory, Bradbard et al (1986) gave children unfamiliar toys and found they were more likely to play with them if they were described as being for their own gender than the other. As children get older they are capable of more complex cognition and understand that their gender doesn't limit them rigidly to in-group objects and behaviours

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Bem's theory of psychological androgyny

Bem (1974) developed a self report questionnaire known as the sex role inventory.  Individuals rate how likely they are to display certain character traits. Those who score highly for both masculine and feminine traits are said to be psychologically androgynous. Bem suggests that androgyny is advantageous in society as it means people have traits to cope with a range of situations.Those who score highly on one scale have a more limited range of skills. Studies suggest that environmental factors are the cause of psychological androgyny. Weisner and Wilson-Mitchell (1990) compared children who were encouraged to take on traditional gender roles with children who were encouraged to be themselves. They found a higher percentage of androgyny in the latter group of children.

However people can lie whilst doing these self report questionnaires, lowering its validity. It however takes into account both genders so is not subject to gender bias increasing its validity.

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Gender Dysphoria or Gender Identity Disorder

Gender Dysphoria is a mental disorder which causes a person to feel biologically one gender but psychologically the other. For example a boy may behave effeminatetly, wanting to wear female clothes and have a baby. Some studies have indicated that Gender Dysphoria could be caused by parental psychiatic problems or absent fathers. Rekers & Kilgus (1997) studied families where offspring had gender dysphoria and found that:

  • 80% of the gender dysphoria sufferers had mothers with mental health problems.
  • 45% had fathers with mental health problems.
  • 37%  of sufferers had no male role model.

However not all children who experience these problems during childhood go on to develop gender dysphoria so there must be other explanations.

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Genes and Gender Development & Hormones and Gender


Males sex chromosome is XY

Female sex chromosome is XX

Structurally same up until 6 weeks when if male Y chromosome triggers H-Y antigen which cause gonadal ridges to develop into testes if no H-Y antigen present it develops into ovaries.


Male hormones are androgens, Female hormones are oestrogens, Males produce more androgens than females, females produce more oestrogens than males.

Deterministic, Emphasis on differences may have socially sensitive consequences. Research may selectively report sex differences.

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Evolutionary explanations of gender roles

Gender roles developed through evolution.

Shields (1975) suggests men and women evolved to have roles that complimented each other, dividing the behaviours necessary for survival.

Buss (1995)  suggests men and women have different reproductive strategies. Women invest more in their child which could lead to stereotypical behaviours, In contrast men have to compete for mates so demonstrate more aggressive masculine behaviours.

Which came first gender role or biological differences? Can't establish cause and effect.

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Biosocial Approach

During foetal development, genetics and physiological changes lead to development of female or male physical characteristics. Once the baby is born people react differently to it depending on its gender - its given a social label. This label means that the different sex's are treated differently from birth and learn different attitudes and behaviours as result so they are socialised in different ways.

Money & Erdhardt (1972) suggest that the social labelling has a greater influence on the childs behaviour than physiological differences. They also identified that between 18 months and 3 years was a critical period for gender role development. They studied girls who had been incorrectly labelled as male at birth, until the disorder was diagnosed, the girls had been raised as boys. They then underwent gender reassignment surgery and were treated as girls. The study found that those who recieved surgery before the age of 3 were able to adapt to their new gender easily, whilst those who revieved surgery after the age of 3 had much more difficulty.

Smith and Lloyd (1978) behaviour towards male and female babies. The study showed that people's behaviour towards babies alters depending on the babies' gender. The study provides support for the biosocial theory. However its possible the participants might have shown demand characteristics, they could have worked out the purpose of the experiment and acted to fit in with it.

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Social Influences on Gender role

Social Learning theory suggests we learn by observing and copying the behaviour of people around us. This behaviour can be passive ie watched and copied, or it can be active where the behaviour is reinforced through rewards or discouraged by punishment. Gender typical behaviours can be learnt this way.Evidence suggests that parents and peers react differently to children depending on their gender. Parent Influence-  Rubin et al (1974) found that fathers used words like soft and beautiful to describe new born daughters and stong and firm to descibe sons. Culp et al (1983) found that women treated babies differently according to how they were dressed, talking more to those dressed as girls and smiling more at those dressed as boys. Hron- Stewart's (1988) study found that adults were quicker to comfort crying baby girls than boys and mothers were more likely to help a daughter complete a task than a son. Peer Influence- Maccoby and Jacklin (1987) found that children as young as 3 prefer same sex playmates. Maccoby (1990) found that children segregate according to gender when organising their own activities. Lamb and Roopnarine (1979)found that children also encourage gender appropriate behaviour and criticise gender inappropriate behaviour. Media- The more tv a child watches the more stereotypical their views on gender are. Schools- Attitudes of schools and teachers influence gender roles for example if a teacher holds gender stereotypes this may influence their beliefs about the abilities and preferences of girls and boys.

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Cross Cultural Research

These studies help us understand the causes of gender roles. If roles are similar in different cultures it suggests a biological explanation. However if they vary between cultures a social explanation of gender roles is more likely. Whiting & Edwards (1988) observed behaviour in the USA, Mexico, Japan, India, the Philippines and Kenya. They found that gender behaviour was very similar to western stereotypes and that there were clear differences between male and female behaviour. In societies were children were expected to contribute to the family there were further gender differences. Girls were more likely to do domestic work & look after younger siblings, whilst boys were more likely to work out of the home looking after animals etc.

Katz & Konner (1981) looked at 80 different cultures they found that in 90% of them the women had child rearing responsibilities. D'Andrade (1966) looked at information from 224 societies and found;

  • Men were more likely to travel further from home to work and be involved in weapon making, metal work and hunting.
  • Women were more likely to make and repair clothes, prepare and cook food, and make objects for use in the home.

Natural experiments so high ecological validity but lack of control, Not culturally bias.

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A great resource, although i do think the AO1 (description) and AO2/3 (evaluation) could be seperated more clearly. Thank you!  x

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