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Cognitive Explanations of Gender Development

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Cognitive Explanations of Gender Development

Cognitive approaches in psychology date back to 1967 and were made famous by Ulric Neisser's book 'Cognitive Psychology'. Cognitive approaches focus on our thought processes and how they explain our behaviour and certain psychological phenomena. Cognitive approaches use computer models and introspective studies to examine how our thoughts affect us.

Cognitive studies use a range of methods such as case studies, questionnaires, laboratory experiments, and interviews to find out our thinking patterns and what they mean to us.

Psychological theories of gender development

Suppose we use the cognitive approach to explain gender and its development. In that case, we must first base our theories on the assumption that gender identity is a cognitive concept, ie, something that takes place in our minds and is not biologically determined or strictly behavioral. As our brains physically develop, our cognitive abilities also mature, meaning we are capable of more complex thought. This idea forms the basis for the theories we will explore in this section.

Cognitive Explanations of Gender Development Cognitive gender development StudySmarter

Cognitive gender development, Pixabay

Kohlberg's theory of gender identity development (1966)

American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg published his cognitive theory of gender development in the 1960s. His theory states that gender development occurs in stages, similar to Jean Piaget's 1936 essay describing specific stages in which children develop certain cognitive skills. Kohlberg theorized that as children develop cognitive skills, their understanding of their gender and that of the people around them increases.

Kohlberg described three stages: gender labeling (ages 2-3), gender stability (age 4), and gender consistency (ages 6-7), in which children begin to understand various complexities surrounding gender, such as how to identify the gender of others and the idea that gender is constant and does not change based on superficial factors such as clothing.

Evaluation of Kohlberg's theory

A strength of Kohlberg's theory is that many studies support it, eg Thompson (1975) and Munroe et al. (1984). The existence of research supports the validity of the theory.

A weakness of this theory is that it is descriptive rather than explanatory. It does not explain why gender identities and certain attitudes regarding gender emerge but merely describes what this process looks like and when specific changes occur.

Gender schema theory

Carol Martin and Charles Halverston developed the gender schema theory in 1981. It describes how gender identities develop based on our schemas about that aspect of ourselves and others. Schemas are abstract cognitive representations of concepts, like a mental toolbox containing information about various things.

A child may develop a schema about dogs that includes knowledge that dogs are furry creatures with four legs.

In terms of gender, Martin and Halverston suggested that children develop their gender identity by creating schemas about different genders and determining their in-group and out-group based on this. By identifying with their in-group, usually consisting of people with similar gender identity, children take on gender characteristics and develop their gender expression and their idea of belonging to their in-group.

Evaluation of the gender schema theory

The good thing about this theory is that it helps explain the thought processes behind Kohlberg's stages much more comprehensively. Some studies support this theory, such as a 1993 study by Liben and Signorella in which 106 predominantly white children were shown stereotypical images of behaviors alongside neutral and non-stereotypical images. In two studies, children had difficulty remembering nontraditional and opposite-sex stimuli even when given additional interpretations (eg, labels) when they first encountered the stimuli.

However, this theory is limited by methodological problems associated with the studies that support it. Many of the studies used to support this theory are based on interviews with young children, which increases the likelihood of demand characteristics.

Demand characteristics: When participants act as they believe the researcher expects them to act, rather than acting naturally.

How can cognitive explanations of gender development be applied?

Cognitive approaches to gender can be applied in nurseries to help children develop healthy gender identities and positive attitudes toward people with gender identities different from their own.

For example, suppose we know that children develop their gender schemas around the age of two, as Martin and Halverston suggest. In that case, we could incorporate an inclusive introduction to gender education at this age to promote positive and inclusive attitudes towards those inside and outside the child's group. This could help reduce sexist and transphobic attitudes later in life.

Other explanations for gender development

When we look at a particular topic in psychology from a particular psychological approach, it can be helpful to look at how other schools of thought also approach the same phenomenon. We can use our knowledge of different approaches to evaluate the ones we are focusing on and see which approach best explains the various elements of a particular topic.

Psychodynamic explanation of gender development

Initially developed by Sigmund Freud between 1890 and 1930, the psychodynamic approach focuses on how our unconscious thoughts and drives influence our behaviour. This approach assumes that we develop our gender identities around the age of five, which Freud calls the 'phallic stage', through specific crises he calls 'complexes'.

Oedipus complex

Freud proposes that children develop their gender through the Oedipus complex. The complex is described as unconscious tension in which a young boy is preoccupied with his mother and hates his father, viewing him as a rival. In a girl, it is the other way around. The Oedipus complex is traditionally used to describe the development of boys. To resolve this tension, the boy takes on the masculine characteristics of his father.

Electra complex

Carl Jung proposes that the female gender identity develops through the Electra complex. The complex is described as an unconscious tension in which a young girl is preoccupied with her father and hates her mother because she sees her as a rival and believes she has castrated her, so she has no penis. Freud refers to this as penis envy. To resolve this tension, the girl adopts her mother's feminine traits and replaces her desire for a penis with a desire for a baby.

Cognitive Explanations of Gender Development Oedipus Electra complex StudySmarter

Oedipus and Electra complexes, Canva

Biological influences on gender development

The biological approach to gender suggests that our gender identities are based on biology. There are two different factors at play: our genetics and our hormones.

Genes

Our biological sex is determined at birth by our 23rd chromosome. We either have the pattern XX (for a female) or XY (for a male) within this chromosome. However, there are rare exceptions to this rule. For example, people with a genetic condition known as Klinefelter's syndrome have the chromosomal pattern XXY, which results in different physical characteristics than typical males with an XY chromosome.

Hormones

Hormones are chemicals in our body's endocrine system carried through the bloodstream that perform specific functions. Certain hormones contribute to our physical sex characteristics.

In the womb, around the eighth week of pregnancy, the presence of the hormone testosterone determines whether a baby is born with male or female genitalia. When testosterone is present, the male sex organs begin to develop and the hypothalamus changes so that the brain is more inclined to male behaviors. When testosterone is not present, the baby grows female sex organs, and its brain does not undergo significant gendered changes.

During puberty (between the ages of 10 and 16), young people experience another surge of hormones. In males, testosterone levels rise sharply, developing secondary sexual characteristics such as facial hair and a deeper voice. In women, estrogen levels rise sharply, developing secondary sexual characteristics such as breasts and beginning their menstrual cycle.

Cognitive Explanations of Gender Development Biological influences on gender development Biological influences StudySmarter

Biological influences on gender development, KG - StudySmarter Originals (in conjunction with Pixabay images)

Cognitive Explanations of Gender Development - Key takeaways

  • Cognitive approaches focus on our thought processes and how they explain our behavior and certain psychological phenomena.
  • Cognitive studies use various methods such as case studies, questionnaires, laboratory experiments, and interviews to find our thinking patterns and what they mean to us.
  • As our brains physically develop, our cognitive abilities also mature, which means we are capable of more complex thoughts.
  • Kohlberg theorized that as children develop their cognitive abilities, their understanding of their gender and that of the people around them increases.
  • Martin and Halverston suggested that children develop their gender identity by creating schemas about different genders and determining their in-group and out-group on this basis.
  • Cognitive approaches to gender can be applied in nurseries to help children develop healthy gender identities and positive attitudes toward people with gender identities different from their own.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cognitive Explanations of Gender Development

The two cognitive theories of development are the Kohlberg’s theory (1966) and the gender schema theory (1981). Both describe how specific cognitive skills and thought processes can affect how our gender identity develops.

Cognitive influences on our gender can include who we consider our in- and out-groups, how those around us express or conceptualise gender and media's impact on gender roles.

Developmentally, there aren’t many cognitive differences in the development of boys and girls. However, the different in- and out-groups, which are cognitive concepts that boys and girls identify with during their early years, can significantly impact their gender expression.

Final Cognitive Explanations of Gender Development Quiz

Question

who created the gender schema theory?

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Martin and Halverston

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when was the gender schema theory created

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1981.0

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what is the gender schema theory?

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it is a psychological theory that suggests that a child's perception and development of their gender identity comes from a certain type of thought pattern called a schema.

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does the gender schema theory support kohlberg's theory?

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it agrees with his theory and adds some explantion to the development of gender identity throughout childhood, however it does not provide any research evidence for kohlberg's theory

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what type of theory is the gender schema theory?

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This theory is a cognitive theory, meaning that it focuses on our thought processes and how they can explain certain psychological phenomena.

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who first proposed the idea of a schema?

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frederick bartlett

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describe the schema children first develop about their gender

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the first, basic schema a child develops about their gender is made up of external, superficial information and helps them understand who is part of their gender in-group and out-group

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what is an in group?

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an in group is a social group or type of person that someone identifies with

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what is an out group?

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an out group is a social group of type of person that someone does not identify as part of

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how do in groups and out groups help children develop their gender identities?

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as children begin to identify with their gendered in group, they learn from those around them within their in group about how their gender behaves, and can emulate these behaviours to develop their gender identity.

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name a study that supports the gender schema theory

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Liben & Signorella 1993

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when do martin and halverston suggest that gender identities begin to form?

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from age 2 onwards

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what is a methodological issue associated with conducting interviews with child participants

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demand characteristics

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which of these groups of people do children tend to consider more favourable than the other?

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in group

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when was kohlberg's theory created?

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1966.0

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what psychological approach does Kohlberg use to understand gender development?

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cognitive

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when does the labelling stage occur

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2-3 years

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what occurs during the labelling stage?

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the labelling stage is where is where children begin to identify the gender expressions of themselves and the people around them. For example, they are able to tell others their gender and identify those of others from their outward appearances.

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when does the stability stage occur?

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4 years old

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what occurs during the stability stage?

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the stability stage is when children begin to recognize how, in the case of cisgender people, gender stays constant as we age. This means that they understand how girls will grow into women and boys will grow to become men.

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when does the consistency stage occur?

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6-7 years old

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what occurs during the consistency stage?

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the consistency stage is when gender becomes a more fixed concept for the child. At this stage, they realize that external changes such as hair growth and clothing choices do not change people's gender identity.

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what other cognitive theory does kohlberg's theory align with?

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piaget's stages of development (1954)

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what is conservation as a cognitve skill?

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Conservation is a child's cognitive ability to understand that even when the appearances of a person or object change, more stable properties such as mass and quantity do not change.

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what is an example of conservation?

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if you take two equal glasses of water and pour one into a taller, thinner glass and ask the child which glass has more water, a child who has acquired the skill of conservation would be able to understand that both glasses still hold an equal amount of water.

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what is conservation in terms of gender?

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In relation to the child's gender development, their skill in conservation allows them to also understand that a person's gender does not change based on external properties such as the activities they participate in or the way that they dress.

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what is a critcism of kohlbergs theory?

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Kohlberg's theory is criticized for its lack or explanation as to how and why these gender stages occur.

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What was the results of thompsons 1975 study?

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In this study, researchers tested a group of children between the ages of 2 and 3 years old on their ability to correctly identify their own gender and the gender of others. Thompson found that the older children were able to correctly identify genders more often than the younger children, suggesting that this skill develops between these two age groups.

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Question

describe what cognitive approaches are in psychology

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Answer

Cognitive approaches focus on our thought processes, and how they can explain our behaviors and certain psychological phenomena. Cognitive approaches use techniques such as computer models and introspective studies to investigate how our thoughts influence us.

Show question

Question

what techniques are used in cognitive approaches?

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Answer

Cognitive studies use a range of methods such as case studies, questionnaires, lab experiments and interviews to find out about what thought patterns we have and what these mean for us.

Show question

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when are cognitive approaches considered to have begun?

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1967.0

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what assumption do we need to make when using the cognitive approach to understand gender?

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To use the cognitive approach to explain gender and its development, we must first base our theories on the assumption that gender identity is a cognitive concept, that it is something within our minds and not something biologically determined or strictly behavioural.

Show question

Question

how does our physical development help us to understand complex ideas such as gender identity?

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Answer

As our brains physically develop, our cognitive abilities begin to mature, meaning that we are capable of more complex thought.

Show question

Question

who suggested that our gender identities develop in a series of atges between the ages of 2 and 7?

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Answer

Lawrence Kohlberg

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Question

what were kohlberg's stages of gender development and when do they occur?

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Answer

gender labelling (ages 2-3), gender stability (age 4) and gender consistency (ages 6-7)

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what is one concept that children learn as they mature through kohlberg's stages?

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they learn the idea that gender is relatively constant that does not change based on superficial factors such as clothing.

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what is a strength of kohlberg's theory?

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it is supported by many studies, such as Thompson (1975) and Munroe et al (1984)

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what is a weakness of kohlberg's theory?

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A weakness of this theory is that the theory is simply descriptive rather than explanatory

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who suggested that gender identities develop through the use of cognitive representations of concepts known as schemas?

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Answer

Carol Martin and Charles Halverston

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Question

what is an example of a schema?

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Answer

a child may develop a schema about dogs, that contains the knowledge that dogs are furry creatures with four legs.

Show question

Question

what is a strength of the gender schema theory?

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Answer

there are studies that support the theory, such as a 1993 study by Liben and Signorella.

Show question

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what is a weakness of the gender schema theory

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A lot of the research that is used to support the theory is conducted using interviews on young children, which makes demand characteristics more likely.

Show question

Question

When were cognitive approaches to psychology first introduced?

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Answer

Cognitive approaches in psychology date back to 1967.

Show question

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What methods are used in cognitive psychology?

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Case studies, questionnaires, laboratory experiments, and interviews.

Show question

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What is the focus of cognitive approaches?

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Answer

Cognitive approaches focus on our thought processes and how they explain our behaviour and certain psychological phenomena.

Show question

Question

To use cognitive approaches to explain gender, what must we first assume?

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Answer

We must first base our theories on the assumption that gender identity is a cognitive concept, i.e., something occurring in our minds and not biologically determined or strictly behavioural.

Show question

Question

Give two examples of cognitive theories of gender.

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Answer

Kohlberg (1966) and the gender schema theory (1981).

Show question

Question

What is a schema?

Show answer

Answer

Schemas are abstract cognitive representations of concepts, like a mental toolbox containing information about various things.

Show question

Question

How do Martin and Halverson believe that gender develops?

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Answer

In terms of gender, Martin and Halverston suggested children develop their gender identity by creating schemas about different genders and determining their in-group and out-group based on this.

Show question

Question

What are demand characteristics?

Show answer

Answer

When participants act as they believe the researcher expects them to act rather than behave naturally.

Show question

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