Learning: learning theory as an explanation of gender development

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Social Learning Theory and operant conditioning can provide an explanation for how boys learn to be boys and girls learn to be girls. According to these theories, gender development is learned through observation, reinforcement, modelling and imitation of gender appropriate behaviours in parents, peers and others.

Examples: 

  • Children observe their parents as role models and are encouraged to engage with the same-sex parent when performing stereotypical activities, e.g. housework or fixing a car.
  • Gender-stereotypical behaviours are encouraged through reinforcement, and gender-appropriate behaviour will be rewarded with praise and attention. Gender-inappropriate behaviour, however, may be punished.
  • Choice of toys - dolls reinforce quiet, nurturing behaviour in girls, whilst cars and tools encourage noisy, physical play in…

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