Describe and evaluate the gender schema theory of gender development. (8 + 16 marks)Watch
The gender schema theory by Martin and Halverson is an alternative cognitive development approach of Kohlberg’s Gender Consistency Theory. Unlike Kohlberg’s theory, the gender schema theory proposes that children are motivated to acquire their knowledge ender at a young age.
They obtain an early gender identity as young as three years old, then begin to search for rules or ‘schemas’ so they can understand the world around them. This refers to clusters of concepts that a child acquires from the world around them concerning how males and females should behave. They then organise and interpret their experiences and process the new information in to categories, thus the readiness to sort and label the gender information is what drives the development of gender. Such information would include toys that would be appropriate for girls and boys. Girls would identify girl’s toys and play with them as well as refrain from playing with boy’s toys while boys would identify with boys toys with them with them as well as refrain from playing with girl’s toys.
As well as categorising information about their gender, they would also ignore information that does not fit with their schema. This was shown in Bauer’s study which showed boy’s recall of male-stereotype behaviour more superior to the recall of female-stereotype behaviour. They more accurately recalled events consistent with their own gender.
The development of gender schemas lead to the formation of ingroups and outgroups. Ingroups are groups which the person/child identifies with. Example, being a girl means they identify themselves with that group of being a girl. Once this happen, this will lead them to positively evauate their own group and negatively evaluate the outgroups – people who are not a part or not accepted by the people in the group i.e. boys. This motivates the person to be more like their own group and avoid behaviours in the other group. It also leads to the person actively seeking out what people in the ingroup do i.e. acquire ingroup schemas.
Evidence to support the gender schema theory is by Campbell supports for the idea that children develop schemas about gender long before they speak. Using the visual preference technique he found that babies as young as 3 months old (especially boys) showed a small preference for watching babies the same sex as themselves. This preference continued to 9 months and 18 months and became stronger with age which is much younger than Kohlberg’s cognitive theory suggests. This shows that young children pay attention to the ingroup they belong to which supports the idea that babies develop and build their schemas from the environment they are in and from an early age.
Tennenbaum and Leaper argue that parents’ gender schemas are the most influential factor in shaping views about gender in their children, even more so than their actual behaviour or the reinforcements they provide. Their meta-analysis of 43 studies found a small, but significant correlation (+0.16) between parents’ gender schemas and that of their child. These findings imply that children absorb gender schemas from their parents in a subtle way, that they absorb what goes on around them on a daily basis, e.g. how labour is divided in the home, who does the cleaning, who mows the lawn etc.
A similar future study was done by Poulin-Doubois et al in Canada where children were asked to choose a doll to carry out gender-specific tasks e.g. vacuuming and shaving, and girls were found to choose the gender-appropriate task at 2 years old. By 31 months boys displayed the same stereotyping behaviour. However, these studies had small sample sizes of about 50 – 60 children and so generalisation of findings should be made with caution.
However, a weakness of the gender schema theory is that it is regarded as reductionist as it neglects the influence of biological factors suggesting that all gender-oriented behaviour is created through our cognitions. This is a problem because if an individual behaves in a gender-inappropriate way, the gender schema theory blames their level of cognitive development for this. It fails to take into account that some individuals may have been exposed to too much or too little testosterone which may have caused it.
The biosocial approach is an interactionist approach and is more preferred to explaining gender development and recognises that gender is a product of both biology (nature) and environmental (nurture) experiences.