The first explanation into the development of gender identity is the Social Learning Theory or Social Cognitive Theory, developed by Bandura (1991). Bandura suggested that gender identity, or roles, develop through several modes of influence, principally modelling, enactive experience and direct tuition. Bandura demonstrated modelling through the Bobo doll experiment where young children copied aggressive behaviour, particularly when the modeller was the same sex as the child. This suggests children copy same sex models in everyday life and thereby learn what’s considered appropriate behaviour from the behaviour of those around them.
This may be reinforced or inhibited through enactive experience where the child’s actions are ‘rewarded’ or ‘punished’ by people’s reactions. This is also shown through peers, as a child may see them getting rewarded or punished for something and therefore model their behaviour on that outcome. People can also model their behaviour on gender roles shown in the media, which affects their self-efficacy. Additionally, the principle of self-efficacy suggests that we learn what is possible for our own gender through seeing others succeed or fail.
Therefore we are more likely to engage in behaviour that we’ve seen our own gender succeed in. Perry and Bussey (1979) support modelling by showing that children copied the fruit choices of same sex models but this was limited by existing stereotypes e. g. men don’t wear dresses. However, fruit choice is a trivial example and it is not clear that one modelling session had long-term effects. Furthermore the failure to overturn stereotypes might suggest that complex schemas are in operation, which the theory doesn’t allow for.
Another criticism is that research has also shown that children do not always model their behaviour on a same-sex model. This is strengthened by Barkley et al’s study. They found that out of 81 studies, only 18 found that same-sex modelling was more important than direct instruction. Durkin et al also described Bandura’s theory as ‘adevelopmental’; however, this is weakened by the fact that Bandura did state when each stage started to occur i. e. modelling begins once the child can tell males and females apart. This theory also doesn’t account for the fact that a child is not completely passive in his or her development.
Bussey and Bandura (1992) state that a child will move from external reinforcement from parents and peers to self-evaluation and self-regulation as they get older which the theory doesn’t explain. For example, Bussey and Bandura’s study found that four-year-old children would feel bad playing with cross-sex toys, showing that they learn early through self-evaluation. Overall, this theory is good as it notices the important of society in gender role development and it explains why some children are more stereotyped in their views and it can be applied to people of all ages.
This theory also holds implications in society such as how T. V programmes showing stereotypical gender roles could affect a person’s self-efficacy. A second explanation into gender roles / identity is the gender schema theory. This theory states that we have all have gender schemas, which tell us how we should act in order to be accepted. Martin and Halverson (1981) suggested that children when children have basic gender identity, they look at the environment around them in order to build on their gender schema.
Martin suggested that once children know what sex they are, they know their group as in the ‘ingroup’, and the other sex as the ‘outgroup’, developing different schemas for each. From this, they then learn activities and behaviour appropriate to their gender and learn to like people of the same gender and discriminate against the outgroup. Yee and Brown (1994) strengthen this, as they found that children were more positive about their own sex than the other. By playing with other children, they believe that girls share the same interests and vice versa, and this leads to them ignoring the other sex because they are different.
They also learn that they will get teased if they talk to the other sex, and so avoid doing it. Bem’s theory suggested that instead of ingroups and outgroups, it is better to describe them as ‘gender schematic’ and ‘gender non-schematic’. Being gender schematic means that you organise activities and behaviours into masculine and feminine categories, and therefore leads to gender stereotyped behaviour. Those who are non-gender schematic develop an androgynous gender schema, and therefore behave in ways that represent males and females.
This theory is strengthened by the study by Martin and Little, which found that pre-school children had strong gender stereotypes, which shows that they had information about gender roles at a young age, which is what the gender schema theory suggests. The gender schema theory suggests that children will only pay attention to information that relates to their gender schema, and this is also strengthened by Martin and Halverson (1983) who found that when children under six were asked to recall pictures of people, they recalled more gender consistent people.
Bradbard et al told children that gender-neutral items were either for males or females, and found that the children took much more interest in those items in their ingroup. This also suggests that children pay more attention to their ingroup. However, this research can be criticised as it is based on trivial information, and this therefore may not be true of all types of information.