A2 Gender Psychology EssayWatch
Discuss the social learning theory of gender development (8 + 16 marks)
The behavioural perspective is based on the view that behaviour can be learned through the mechanisms of operant conditioning and social learning. In that view, cultural differences influence gendered behaviours because they are reinforced or observed from culture to culture. This perspective claims that it should be possible to encourage girls to behave “masculine” and for boys to behave “feminine”.
Albert Bandura renamed “the social learning theory” to “social cognitive theory” to emphasise the role of cognition in learning and storing observed behaviour. Bandura (1991) proposed that gender role development is the result of learning from social agents who model and reinforce gender role behaviours. There are three types of reinforced learning. The first one is indirect reinforcement: children observe the behaviour of others and learn the consequences of the behaviour (vicarious reinforcement) and the information is stored as an expectancy of future outcome as learning such behaviours results in imitation or modelling. Direct reinforcement is when they learn behaviours of both sexes but do not perform everything they do. Boys may learn a great deal about homemaking role through repeated observation of their mothers but rarely adopt such activities in their everyday life. (Bussy and Bandura 1991). Direct tuition is when children learn through vicarious reinforcement (indirect) but also through explicit instructions (direct) about gendered behaviour. Bandura did not deny the role of biological factors in social learning. In terms of gender he recognised that the starting point for social learning is knowing which sex you are.
The Bobo Doll study by Bandura shows how children were more likely play with the doll if they watched an adult previously play with the doll, whereas children were more likely to hit the doll if they watched an adult hit the doll previously. These effects have also been demonstrated for gender, just like in Perry and Bussey (1979).
There is considerable amount of evidence that suggest that parents reinforce gender-appropriate behaviour and rarely any gender-inappropriate behaviour. For example, Smith and Lloyd (1978) observed mothers playing with an infant tended to only pick out gender-appropriate toys although they were presented with toys for both genders. A research by Fagot et al (1992) showed that such differential reinforced does affect behaviour. Fagot et al have found that parents who show clearest patterns of differential reinforcement have children who are quick to develop strong gender preferences. Eccles et al. (1990) reported a similar outcome, where children were encouraged to play with gender stereotypical toys by their parents, supporting the idea that parents reinforce gender roles.
Another study by Fagot, O’Boyle and Leinbach (1992) found that toddlers aged two to three had mastered the labels ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ had mothers who were more likely to ‘police’ cross-sex play, further supporting the claim that parental reinforcement is important in the ideas that a child develops about gender.
A further study by Fagot with Leinbach (1995) compared children “traditional” families with a working father and a mother who takes of their children, with “alternative” families where both the father and the mother shared the children caring. At 4 years old, the children were given gender labelling tasks to test their gender schemas. Those who came from a traditional family tend to show more gender role stereotyping and use gender labels earlier, suggesting that parents do act as gender role models for their children.
A child’s social world will eventually expand outside of their home and become socially involved with peer groups, thus peer groups become a part of their gender development. This was demonstrated in a study by Perry and Bussey (1979) who showed film clips to children aged 8 to 9. In the film, children were selecting an apple or pear, both gender neutral items. Later, the children were given a choice of a fruit. Boys selected the fruit they saw a boy collecting, and girls picked a pear after they saw a girl collect it. This shows that gender attitudes are taught.
Archer and Lloyd (1982) found that children as young as three criticised peers that engaged in cross-sex play and were less likely to play with them. It is therefore no surprise that sex differences between children’s behaviour appear first of all in social setting (Maccoby 1992) a girl who is happy playing with cars in the sandpit at home is less likely to do that at a playgroup and instead joins the girls in the Wendy House.
Peers are such systematic reinforces of sex-typed play that Harris (1998) and Durkin (1995) have argued that they play more important role in gender role reinforcement than parents. Durkin (1995) suggests that ‘the critical variable may not be vertical reinforcement (i.e. parents) so much as horizontal social engagement (i.e. peers.)
The media generally portrays men as heroes, independent, strong and powerful. In contrast, women are often portrayed as weak, dependent, unambitious and emotional (Bussey and Bandura 1999). Men are generally more likely to be shown exercising control over events, whereas women are frequently shown to be more at mercy of others. (Hodges et al. 1981). Unsurprisingly, those who view television a lot tend to display more stereotypical gender role conceptions than light viewers. Other than the media simply modelling gender typical behaviours, it also gives information about its likely outcomes of those behaviours for males and females. Seeing people similar to themselves succeed raises a person’s beliefs of their own capabilities (self-efficacy) whereas the failure of similar others produces self-doubt about one’s own ability to master similar activity.
Durkin (1995) has argued that television provides a “plentiful source of sex-role models” and that gender stereotypes are alive and kicking on TV. A variety of studies (e.g. Morgan 1982) found that the more television a child watches, the stronger the sex role stereotype they hold. However, whilst it is clear that there is an association between television watching and sex-role stereotypes, we cannot assume that one causes the other. Duck (1990) has argued that children are far from passive in their consumption and that they choose their role models carefully, based on how powerful and attractive they are.
Research has shown that exposure to non-stereotypical information in the media can change expectations. For example, Pingree (1978) found that stereotyping was reduced when children were shown commercials with women in non-traditional roles. This has led to pressure on programme makers to try to use this knowledge to alter such attitudes. However, not all research supports this. Pingree also found that pre-adolescent boys displayed stronger stereotypes after exposure to the non-traditional models. This ‘backlash’ may occur because boys of this age may occur because boys want to take a view that is counter to the view held by adults.