Gender Schema Theory (6ST) by Martin and Halverson explains gender development in terms of schemas, organised clusters of information about gender-appropriate behaviour. Such schemas provide a basis for interpreting the environment and selecting appropriate forms of behaviour, and thus children’s self-perceptions become sex-typed. In particular, children form in-group schemas. In-group schemas are formed concerning attitudes and expectations about one’s own gender, and out group schemas about the other gender.
However, children tend to focus on in-group chemas and avoid behaviours that belong to out-group schemas which lead to a preference for same sex playmates and gender-stereotypical activities. Martin and Halverson argue that gender schema undergoes change as the children’s general cognitive abilities develop. For example pre-schoolers have a basic understanding of what activities and behaviour go with each gender by observing other children, whilst 4-6 year olds have a more complex understanding of what children of the same gender like and do not like, how they play, how they talk etc.
However, it is not until the ages of 8-10 that children develop a complex schema for the opposite sex and gender schemas do not become more flexible until late childhood or adolescence. This explains why teenagers abandon the assumption that what their own gender does is preferable. Gender schema theory is supported by Martin and Little who found that preschool children have gender stereotypes about what is appropriate for boys and girls before they develop much understanding about gender. This supports gender schema theory because it shows that children acquire information about gender roles before
Kohlberg suggested in line with gender schema theory. This is further supported by Campbell who tested infants ages between 3-18 months and found that even the youngest ones had a preference for watching same sex babies. This shows that children from an early age pay more attention to the same- sex, supporting the idea of gender schemas forming early on. Research by Martin and Halverson also supports gender schema theory, as they found that when children were asked to recall pictures of people, children under 6 years recalled more of the gender consistent ones (e. g. emale teacher, male fire- ghter) that gender inconsistent ones (e. g. male nurse). This supports gender schema theory because it shows that children develop in-group and out-group schemas. However, a weakness of gender schema theory is that it is regarded as reductionist as it neglects the influence of biological factors suggesting that all gender-oriented behaviour is created through our cognitions. This is a problem because if an individual behaves in a gender-inappropriate way, GST blames their level of cognitive been exposed to too much or too little testosterone which may not be causing this.
GST is also criticized by Eisenberg et al who found that 3-4 year olds Justified their gender specific choice of toys without reference to gender stereotypes. This contradicts gender schema theory as it shows that children can acts in a gender typical way before they have developed gender schema suggesting that gender specific choices occur due to other factors. There is further contradictory evidence for gender schema theory from Campbell et al who found that 2 year old boys and girls who possessed high levels of gender knowledge did not display preference to play with gender-specific toys.
This contradicts GST because if children have high levels of gender knowledge then, according to 6ST, they should prefer to play with gender specific toys but they didn’t. Moreover, research suggests that when children perform activities not normally stereotypical of their gender, they adjust their thinking so the activity becomes acceptable. This suggests that thinking is affected by behaviour, while gender schema theory predicts the opposite, therefore weakening support for the theory.
Created by Martin and Halverson, gender schema theory addresses the main issue ith Kohlbergs theory, which is that sex-typed behaviour emerges long before gender constancy. Gender Schema theory suggests that gender identity alone provides children provides children with the motivation to assume sex-typed behaviour patterns. A gender schema is an organised grouping of related concepts, which begins to develop at 2-3 years. Once children have gender identity, they accumulate knowledge about the sexes, organising this into gender schemas.
These schemas provide a basis for interpreting the environment and selecting appropriate forms of behaviour, and thus children’s self-perceptions become sex-typed. In-group schemas are formed, concerning attitudes and expectations about one’s own gender, and out-group schemas are created regarding the opposite sex. Toys, games and even objects become categorise as “for boys” or “for girls”. Maccoby believed that because gender is clearly an either or category, children understand very early that this is a key distinction and it serves as a magnet for new information.
Alternatively, adults and other children emphasise gender differences in countless small ways. Once gender schemas are established, children prefer same-sex playmates and take art in gender-stereotyped activities, actively ignoring the other gender. Gender schemas however, do undergo changes as the children’s cognitive abilities develop. children and through reinforcement received from parents. They also learn gender scripts, e. g. cooking dinner (female) and “building with tools) (male). From around 4-6 years old, children learn the subtle nuances of behaviour demonstrated by their gender e. . how they talk and what they like. This understanding develops at around 5-6 years, and the rules are considered absolute e. g. girls must play with dolls. At around 8-10, children observe these behaviours in the opposite sex, understanding the complexity of these behaviours e. g. how boys talk and how boys act. By late childhood and early adolescence, it is understood that these rules are merely social conventions, and gender schemas become more flexible e. g. girls can play football and boys can cook. A large volume of research supports the idea of gender schemas.
Martin and Halverson asked children to recall pictures of people, finding that children under the age of 6 years recalled more gender consistent ones e. g. male footballer, than gender non-consistent ones e. . male nurse. This supports the idea that young children have inflexible ideas regarding gender. Rathus also found evidence to support the existence of gender schemas. He found that children learn that strength is linked to a male stereotype, and weakness to a female stereotype. They also learn that some dimensions e. g. mportance of strength, are more relevant to males. This supports the idea that gender schemas provide children with a basis for interpreting the environment, as well as their own self-perception. Aubry et al performed a longitudinal study into preferences for gender-related items, It was found that once a belief had been adopted that an item was related to the opposite sex, a reduced preference for that item developed. This suggests that gender schemas affect behaviour, as well as beliefs and attitudes towards sex- specific items.
As this was a longitudinal study, it possesses high validity as people usually do not remember past events and if they were asked about their past, they would not remember. These studies also allow researchers to observe long term changes This theory is valid in that it is explanatory, rather than simply descriptive. It explains hy children’s beliefs and attitudes towards gender are rigid and lasting. They only focus on stimuli that confirm and strengthen their schemas, ignoring behavioural examples that contradict the theory.
Another strength of this theory is that it accounts for the active role children play in gender development. Rather than simply acquiring it, this theory states that children actively gather information concerning the behaviour and attitudes displayed by their gender. However, this could be criticised as reductionist, as it places too much emphasis on the role of the individual, disregarding social factors such as reward It is assumed in this theory that it should be possible to change children’s behaviour by changing their schemas.
In fact, it is very difficult to change behaviour even if certain beliefs are held. This is reflected by the fact that many married couples believe in equal division of household chores, but this rarely has much effect on their behaviour. As with all gender developmental theories, there is the issue of individual differences. Not all children conform to the behaviour patterns specified by the theory. For example, some girls prefer to play with action men than Barbie dolls. This theory cannot explain that.