Outline and evaluate two or more explanations of the development of gender identity and/or gender roles

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Clive Newstead

Outline and evaluate two or more explanations of the development of gender identity and/or gender roles

The social learning theory (SLT) explanation of gender would suggest that gender identity and roles are learnt behaviours, rather than innate. It would explain the development of gender identity and roles as being somewhat intertwined; that is, they are both learnt through similar processes. The processes through which this gender behaviour is learnt are direct tuition, modelling and vicarious reinforcement. Direct tuition is carrying out behaviours that are rewarded and avoiding behaviours that are punished, and it is likely that children who act in a gender-appropriate manner are likely to receive rewards for it (“who's a big boy?” or “that's my princess”, for example), whereas those who act in a gender-inappropriate manner are likely to be punished. This is supported by Fagot & Leinbach, who found in their longitudinal study that parents rewarded gender-appropriate behaviour and discouraged gender-inappropriate behaviour, and furthermore that the parents that used more direct tuition had children with more gender stereotyped attitudes. This suggests that direct tuition not only influences how children act with respect to their gender, but also what their expectations of others are in terms of their gender. Modelling is the process of identification and imitation, whereby a person identifies to somebody who is similar or who has desirable characteristics and then imitates their behaviour. Therefore, the theory would suggest that gender is learnt by a child by identifying with their same-sex parent or siblings and imitating their behaviour. The role of modelling is supported by Perry & Bussey, who found that children who watched male and female adults choose between gender-neutral activities tended to choose the same activities as the adult of the same sex. However, this may have been a demand characteristic, as the artificial nature of the study does not represent real life (e.g. a parent, who has lived with the child its whole life). Finally, vicarious reinforcement occurs when a person observes someone else carrying out a behaviour and being rewarded or punished for it. Therefore, gender may be vicariously reinforced by observing other people be rewarded or punished for gender-appropriate or gender-inappropriate behaviour respectively. This has applications to the media in particular, in that advertisements and shows may depict boys as being very traditionally masculine (e.g. the Hulk) and girls as being traditionally feminine (e.g. Barbie). This is supported by Williams, who found a significant increase in gender stereotyping after a television channel was introduced to a town in Canada than before.

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A major criticism of SLT is that it depicts the child as being a passive entity who is a product of their social interactions. This is contested by Kohlberg, who put forward a cognitive-developmental theory (CDT), which contrasts with SLT in that it argues that gender identity is developed before attention to same-sex models is possible (whereas SLT has the opposite causal direction). The principle of Kohlberg's theory is that carrying out gender-appropriate behaviours is rewarding in itself because it matches the child's self-image, as opposed to SLT's requirement of reinforcement from others. Kohlberg's theory is a stage theory, saying ...

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