Outline and Evaluate the Gender Schema Theory

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Outline and Evaluate the Gender Schema Theory (8 + 16 marks)

According to psychologists a schema is a hypothetical mental construct that contains an organised set of beliefs about a specific topic for example gender. These schemas begin to develop from the ages of 2-3 and can be influenced by various social factors such as parents. The gender schema theory was devised and developed by Martin and Halverson and based on the cognition. This theory opposes Kohlberg’s theory of gender development and states that gender specific behaviours develop before acquiring gender consistency. Martin et al states that gender identity alone provides motivation for children to begin to carry out gender specific behaviour and thus creates a schema on gender.

The gender schema theory of gender development states that children form in-group and out-group schemas. In-group schemas are fixed beliefs, behaviours and expectations of the child’s own gender and according to this theory children favour their in group schemas and are lead to seek, carry out and follow this schema. An out-group schema is similar to an in-group schema in such a way that it consists of beliefs, behaviours and expectations however these concepts are of the opposite sex and due to this according to the theory children view their out-group schema as negative. Due to children favouring their in-group schema, children pay attention more to behaviours that effect this schema, for example a little girl will pay more attention to her mother in order to learn more about their gender and develop their schema, however due to children viewing their out-group schema as negative, children ignore behaviours of the opposite sex and therefore are less likely to follow the behaviours of the opposite sex. Martin and Halverson furthermore state that at the beginning children’s schemas are fixed and rigid, for example they strictly believe boys were trousers and girls wear skirts, however they believe that as time goes on and the schemas develop, their schemas become more flexible, allowing them to understand that woman can still wear trousers and men can still wear skirts. Lastly, the gender schema theory also focuses on the importance of social factors and states that schemas can be affected by social interactions especially with parents.
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Support for the gender schema theory comes from research carried out by Martin et al (1995) who found when researching 4-5 year olds; children are influenced by labels given when selecting toys. Martin et al showed children gender neutral toys and told the children whether the toys were for boys or for girls. They found that the boys preferred the toys labelled for boys and the girls preferred the toys labelled for girls. Martin et al further used the same toys but labelled them oppositely and found the results to still be consistent as the boys still favoured ...

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