Outline and Evaluate the Gender Schema Theory of Gender Development
This theory involves age related stages and explains gender development through nurture and the process of social learning. A schema is an organised group of ideas and concepts which facilitate children’s learning and information gathering about the world. The GST suggests that children develop gender constancy only once they have learnt gender appropriate behaviours for each gender through observation. The GST contains four age related stages. The first stage suggests that children have to develop a gender identity and understand their own gender, which is normally done in preschool. In the second stage, between the ages of 4-6, the theory suggests that children view their gender as the in-group and classify the opposite sex as an out-group They focus on their own gender, e.g. if you have long hair you are a girl and must like dolls. Ingroup schemas consist of attituders and expectations about a child’s own gender, whilst outgroup schemas consist of attitudes and expectations of the opposite gender. The third stage occurs between the ages of 8-10, where the children actively seek out gender appropriate behaviours and actions within the in-group. The child’s ideas about gender become more concrete, and use rules which are not flexible. The final stage occurs within adolescence, where the theory suggests that they utilise information observed from the in-group to select gender appropriate behaviours for each gender. Many children at this age understand that gender is fluid and only deemed inflexible by some societies. Many abandon gender divides which exist and become androgynous (masculine and feminine).
The theory is supported by research from Rathus who found that children learn early on that ‘strength’ is associated with males and ‘weakness’ is associated with females. This supports the idea that children do learn schemas early on.
Further evidence which supports this idea and the theory comes from Campbell, who found that by 9 months old, boys showed an increased preference for boy’s toys, e.g. footballs. This supports the early development of gender schemas.
Additional research support comes from Martin who asked children 6 years of age to recall pictures of people who were either performing gender consistent behaviours (male footballers) or performing gender inconsistent behaviours (male nurse). He found that recall was better for the gender consistent behaviours, supporting the fact that children do use schemas at an early age and that children will ignore what doesn’t fit into the schemas, which is what is predicted in the…