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Gender Development

Gender refers to an individual's anatomical sex, or sexual assignment, and the cultural
and social aspects of being male or female. An individual's personal sense of maleness
or femaleness is his or her gender identity. Outward expression of gender identity,
according to cultural and social expectations, is a gender role. Either gender may live
out a gender role (a man or a woman, for instance, can be a homemaker) but not a sex
role, which is anatomically limited to one gender (only a woman can gestate and give
Psychological and social influences on gender identity
Gender identity is ultimately derived from chromosomal makeup and physical
appearance, but this derivation of gender identity does not mean that psychosocial
influences are missing. Gender socialization, or the process whereby a child learns the
norms and roles that society has created for his or her gender, plays a significant role in
the establishment of her or his sense of femaleness or maleness. If a child learns she is
a female and is raised as a female, the child believes she is a female; if a child is told he
is a male and is raised as a male, the child believes he is male.

Beginning at birth, most parents treat their children according to the appearance of their
genitals. Parents even handle their baby girls less aggressively than their baby boys.
Children quickly develop a clear understanding that they are either female or male, as
well as a strong desire to adopt genderappropriate mannerisms and behaviors. This
understanding normally occurs within 2 years of age, according to many authorities. In
short, biology sets the stage, but children's interactions with social environments
actually determine the nature of gender identity.
Psychological theories of Gender Development
There are two competing theories as to how gender is developed and shaped in a
child's early development. These theories are connected to the nature vs. nurture
debate, which asks the question of whether a child is a product of his genes or his

The article "Cognitive Theories of Early Gender Development" discusses these theories
in depth and is a very good resource for background knowledge concerning how
children develop a sense of gender and self. The two theorists who began this debate
were Walter Mischel and Lawrence Kohlberg. Mischel "emphasized the importance of
environmental determinants of gender development (rewards and models) and
suggested that behaviors precede cognitions", while Kohlberg "emphasized the
importance of children's growing understanding of gender categories and their
permanent placement into one of them. He proposed that such cognitions precede
behaviors". The current model for gender development seems to be a combination of
these two theories, which has evolved into the gender-schema theory. This theory
states that gender is a "function of interactions between the individual and his or her
environment as well as changes in response to situational variations".

The Cognitive Approach
Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development
Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was one of the most influential researchers in the area of
developmental psychology during the 20th century. Piaget originally trained in the areas
of biology and philosophy and considered himself a "genetic epistemologist." He was
mainly interested in the biological influences on "how we come to know." He believed
that what distinguishes human beings from other animals is our ability to do "abstract
symbolic reasoning." Piaget's views are often compared with those of Lev Vygotsky
(1896-1934), who looked more to social interaction as the primary source of cognition
and behavior. This is somewhat similar to the distinctions made between Freud and
Erikson in terms of the development of personality. The writings of Piaget and Vygotsky
along with the work of John Dewey, Jerome Bruner and Ulrick Neisser (1967) form the
basis of the constructivist theory of learning and instruction.
While working in Binet's IQ test lab in Paris, Piaget became interested in how children
think. He noticed that young children's answers were qualitatively different than older
children which suggested to him that the younger ones were not dumber (a quantitative
position since as they got older and had more experiences they would get smarter) but,
instead, answered the questions differently than their older peers because they thought
There are two major aspects to his theory: the process of coming to know and the
stages we move through as we gradually acquire this ability.
Process of Cognitive Development. As a biologist, Piaget was interested in how an
organism adapts to its environment (Piaget described as intelligence.) Behavior
(adaptation to the environment) is controlled through mental organizations called
schemata (sometimes called schema or schemes) that the individual uses to represent
the world and designate action. This adaptation is driven by a biological drive to obtain
balance between schemes and the environment (equilibration).
Piaget hypothesized that infants are born with schema operating at birth that he called
"reflexes." In other animals, these reflexes control behavior throughout life. However, in
human beings as the infant uses these reflexes to adapt to the environment, these
reflexes are quickly replaced with constructed schemata.
Piaget described two processes used by the individual in its attempt to adapt:
assimilation and accomodation. Both of these processes are used though out life as the
person increasingly adapts to the environment in a more complex manner.
Assimilation is the process of using or transforming the environment so that it can be
placed in preexisting cognitive structures. Accomodation is the process of changing
cognitive structures in order to accept something from the environment. Both processes
are used simultaneously and alternately throughout life. An example of assimilation
would be when an infant uses a sucking schema that was developed by sucking on a
small bottle when attempting to suck on a larger bottle. An example of accomodation
would be when the child needs to modify a sucking schema developed by sucking on a
pacifier to one that would be successful for sucking on a bottle.
As schema become increasingly more complex (i.e., responsible for more complex
behaviors) they are termed structures. As one's structures become more complex, they
are organized in a hierarchical manner (i.e., from general to specific).
Stages of Cognitive Development. Piaget identified four stages in cognitive
1. Sensorimotor stage (Infancy). In this period (which has 6 stages), intelligence is
demonstrated through motor activity without the use of symbols. Knowledge of
the world is limited (but developing) because its based on physical interactions /
experiences. Children acquire object permanence at about 7 months of age
(memory). Physical development (mobility) allows the child to begin developing
new intellectual abilities. Some symbollic (language) abilities are developed at
the end of this stage.
2. Pre-operational stage (Toddler and Early Childhood). In this period (which has
two substages), intelligence is demonstrated through the use of symbols,
language use matures, and memory and imagination are developed, but thinking
is done in a nonlogical, nonreversable manner. Egocentric thinking predominates
3. Concrete operational stage (Elementary and early adolescence). In this stage
(characterized by 7 types of conservation: number, length, liquid, mass, weight,
area, volume), intelligence is demonstarted through logical and systematic
manipulation of symbols related to concrete objects. Operational thinking
develops (mental actions that are reversible). Egocentric thought diminishes.
4. Formal operational stage (Adolescence and adulthood). In this stage,
intelligence is demonstrated through the logical use of symbols related to
abstract concepts. Early in the period there is a return to egocentric thought. Only
35% of high school graduates in industrialized countries obtain formal operations;
many people do not think formally during adulthood.
Many pre-school and primary programs are modeled on Piaget's theory, which, as
stated previously, provided part of the foundation for constructivist learning. Discovery
learning and supporting the developing interests of the child are two primary
instructional techniques. It is recommended that parents and teachers challenge the
child's abilities, but NOT present material or information that is too far beyond the child's
level. It is also recommended that teachers use a wide variety of concrete experiences
to help the child learn (e.g., use of manipulatives, working in groups to get experience
seeing from another's perspective, field trips, etc).
Piaget's research methods were based primarily on case studies (i.e., they were
descriptive). While some of his ideas have been supported through more correlational
and experimental methodologies, others have not. For example, Piaget believed that
biological development drives the movement from one cognitive stage to the next. Data
from cross-sectional studies of children in a variety of western cultures seem to support
this assertion for the stages of sensorimotor, preoperational, and concrete operations.

However, data from similar cross-sectional studies of adolescents do not support the
assertion that all individuals will automatically move to the next cognitive stage as they
biologically mature simply through normal interaction with the environment (Jordan &
Brownlee, 1981). Data from adolescent populations indicates only 30 to 35% of high
school seniors attained the cognitive development stage of formal operations (Kuhn,
Langer, Kohlberg & Haan, 1977). For formal operations, it appears that maturation
establishes the basis, but a special environment is required for most adolescents and
adults to attain this stage.

There are a number of specific examples of how to use Piagetian theory in
teaching/learning process.

Gender schema theory
Gender schema theory was formally introduced by Sandra Bem in 1981 as a cognitive
theory to explain how individuals become gendered in society, and how sex-linked
characteristics are maintained and transmitted to other members of a culture.
associated information is predominantly transmuted through society by way of
schemata, or networks of information that allow for some information to be more easily
assimilated than others. Bem argues that there are individual differences in the degree
to which people hold these gender schemata. These differences are manifested via the
degree to which individuals are sex-typed.
Core gender identity is tied up in the sex typing that an individual undergoes. This typing
can be heavily influenced by child rearing, media, school, and other forms of cultural
transmission. Bem refers to four categories in which an individual may fall: sex-typed,
cross-sex-typed, androgynous, and undifferentiated. Sex-typed individuals process and
integrate information that is in line with their gender. Cross-sex-typed individuals
process and integrate information that is in line with the opposite gender. Androgynous
individuals process and integrate traits and information from both genders. Finally,
undifferentiated individuals do not show efficient processing of sex-typed information.
Gender stereotypes
Being that gender schema theory is a theory of process and not content, this theory can
help explain some of the processes by which gender stereotypes become so
psychologically ingrained in our society. Specifically, having strong gender schemata
provides a filter through which we process incoming stimuli in the environment. This
leads to an easier ability to assimilate information that is stereotype congruent, hence
further solidifying the existence of gender stereotypes. Within adolescent development,
Bem hypothesizes that children must choose among a plethora of dimensions, but that
gender schemas lead to the regulation of behaviors that conform to the cultural
definition of what it means to be male or female. Additionally, Bem asserts that there is
also a heterosexuality subschema, which likely encouraged the development of gender
schemas. Most societies treat exclusive heterosexuality as the benchmark for proper
masculinity and femininitythat is, heterosexuality is the norm. Furthermore, the
heterosexuality subschema asserts that men and women are supposed to be different
from one another. It is hypothesized that this is why cross-sexed interactions are likely
to be coded sexually. Sex-typed individuals have a general readiness to invoke the
heterosexuality subschema in social interactions, behaving differently towards
individuals of the opposite sex that they find attractive v. unattractive.
Some of the early tests of gender schema theory came in the form of memory and other
cognitive tasks designed to assess facilitated processing of sex-typed information. Much
of this early research found that participants who were sex-typed remembered more
traits associated with their sex, as well as processed sex-type congruent information
more efficiently, suggesting that the gender schemata possessed by sex-typed
individuals help to assimilate sex-associated information into ones self-concept (see
Bem, 1981). Bem showed that when given the option of clustering words by either
semantic meaning or gender, sex-typed individuals are more likely to use the gender
clustering system, followed by undifferentiated individuals. Cross-typed individuals had
the lowest percentage of words clustered by gender.
Positive social change
A strong source of sex-typing comes from the rearing practices of parents. Bem offers
strong suggestions for preventing the sex-typing of children, including the prevention of
access to media that promotes sex-typing, altering media and stories to eliminate sex-
typing information, and modeling equal roles for mothers and fathers in the
household.For example, Bem edited the books that her children read to create a more
androgynous view. This included, for example, drawing long hair and feminine body
characteristics on male figures. Ultimately, however, this is somewhat limited because
children will become exposed to some of this sex-typing information, particularly when
they begin attending school. Therefore, Bem suggests teaching alternative schemata to
children so that they are less likely to build and maintain a gender schema. Some
examples include an individual differences schema, where children learn to process
information on a person-by-person basis rather than make wide assumptions about
groups based on information from individuals. Also, providing children with a sexism
schema, where children learn to process sex-typed information through a filter that
promotes moral outrage when sexist information is being promoted, can assist in
providing children with the resources to not only keep from becoming sex-typed but also
promote positive social change.
Bem wished to raise consciousness that the male/female dichotomy is used as an
organizing framework, often unnecessarily, especially in the school curriculum. She
stressed that the omnirelevance of gender has a negative impact on society, and that
the gender schema should be more limited in scope. Within the feminist lens, androgyny
is not radical enough, because androgyny means that masculine and feminine still
exist. Rather, society should decrease the use of the gender dichotomy as a functional
unit, and be aschematic.
The legacy of gender schema theory has not been one of great obvious lasting impact
on the psychology of gender. Bem's theory was undoubtedly informed by the cognitive
revolution of the 1970s and 1980s and was coming at a time when the psychology of
gender was drastically picking up interest as more and more women were entering
academic fields. While gender schema theory does provide a cognitive backbone for
how gender stereotypes may continue to be maintained in current society, it lost wind as
more broad sociological theories became the dominant force in the psychology of
gender. A major limitation of gender schema theory has been that once research
supported the nature of the process, there was little work that followed.
The longest-lasting contribution to the field has been the Bem Sex Role Inventory
(BSRI). Originally developed as a tool to identify sex-typed individuals, many
researchers use the measure to look at other components of gender, including
endorsement of gender stereotypes and as a measure of masculinity/femininity. Caution
should be employed when examining research that uses the BSRI for measuring
constructs that it was not created to measure.
Interestingly, Bem herself admitted that she was ill-prepared to develop the BSRI and
never anticipated it being as widely used as it still is even today.

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