Cognitive Explanations (Gender Model Answers) (Paper 3 Model Answers)
Outline and Evaluate Gender Schema Theory (16 marks)
Cognitive explanations of gender propose that the development of gender is influenced by internal mental processes. Martin and Halverson introduced the concept of schemas, which are organized clusters of information about gender-appropriate behavior. Children acquire these schemas through their interactions with others, learning about the toys and clothes considered suitable for each gender. These schemas help children understand what is considered masculine and feminine behavior. Children are particularly interested in the schemas that align with their own gender, focusing on the in-group schemas. Girls concentrate on feminine schemas, while boys focus on masculine schemas.
From an early age, children prioritize the in-group schemas and avoid behaviors associated with the out-group schemas. This theory explains why children tend to hold fixed gender attitudes over time. Their selective attention leads them to ignore information that contradicts the in-group information they have already internalised. For example, if a boy sees a male nurse in a movie, he is likely to disregard this information because it does not align with his existing in-group schema.
Research provides substantial support for the acquisition of gender stereotypes before gender constancy. Martin and Little found that children under the age of four did not demonstrate gender constancy but exhibited strong gender stereotypes about what activities were acceptable for boys and girls. This finding aligns with gender schema theory, suggesting that children acquire knowledge about gender roles earlier than proposed by Kohlberg. The concept of schemas is further supported by research indicating that children remember gender-consistent information better than gender-inconsistent information. Martin and Halverson discovered that children under six recalled more gender-consistent pictures (e.g., a male firefighter) than gender-inconsistent ones (e.g., a male nurse). This research underscores the significant role of schemas in gender identity development.
Despite the evidence supporting gender schema theory, some studies suggest that children engage in gender-typical behavior before fully developing gender schemas. Eisenberg et al. found that 3 to 4-year-olds justified their gender-specific toy choices without reference to gender stereotypes, although they did mention stereotypes when discussing the behavior of other children. This seemingly contradicts the predictions of gender schema theory, as it implies that children's own behavior is not directly shaped by gender but rather relies on stereotypes to understand and predict the behavior of others. The direct influence of schemas on gender development is therefore open to question. Awareness of gender stereotypes and possession of relevant schemas does not necessarily guarantee that our behavior will align with them. For example, adults can be fully aware of gender expectations but choose not to conform to them. Consequently, there is limited understanding of how gender-related conceptions translate into behavior.
This theory also struggles to explain gender differences in behavior, exhibiting gender beta bias. Bussey and Bandura found that girls are more willing to engage in masculine activities compared to boys' willingness to participate in feminine activities, despite both genders having similar schemas. This discrepancy in the development of gender schemas for each gender may be attributed to societal stigma, as masculine traits and activities are often perceived as more desirable. Consequently, girls are more likely to possess or engage in them. This suggests that gender schema theory should be considered alongside other approaches, such as social learning theory, to provide a more comprehensive understanding of gender-related behavior.