This essay concerns the development of gender-role identification and what theories have been regarded as the most influential in explaining the process.
One theoretical approach into gender-role identification is the social learning theory. Bandura (1973) pioneered work on gender development. The social learning theory contends that gender roles are heavily determined by environmental factors (Bandura,1986; Bandura and Bussey, 2004; Bussey and Bandura, 1999 in Brannon, L. 2008) and most importantly they are learnt. One way in which children may come to acquire their targeted gender roles is through operant conditioning (in Brannon, L. 2008). Skinner (1970, in Brannon, L. 2008) stressed the importance of reinforcement and punishment in children. For instance, if a child finds that by behaving in a certain way e.g. a boy who plays with car toys receives approval from his parents, they are more likely to repeat this behaviour. However, if a girl is found to be jumping or behaving in an erratic manner she will receive disapproval from her parents hence not repeat the behaviour (in Brannon, L. 2008). A vast amount of studies have demonstrated and partially blamed parents for acting in a gendered stereotypical manner. According to Wood, Desmaratis and Gugula, (2002 in Brannon, L 2008) parents encourage and provide toys that are associated with the child’s gender and therefore treat children differently.
One study into the effects of differential treatment amongst boys and girls comes from Fagot’s (1978, in Smith, P.K., Cowie, H & Blades, M. 2003) research. Fagot (1978) found that boys and girls received reinforcement and punishment for different behaviours. For example, girls were discouraged from shouting, jumping and reinforced for taking on the caring role whilst boys were highly discouraged from seeking help and reinforced for playing with toy cars (in Smith P.K. et al., 2003).This can be explained in terms of the way parents socialise their children into what is gender appropriate behaviour and what is gender inappropriate behaviour which usually begins in infancy (in Smith P.K. et al., 2003).
The social learning theory also posits that learning occurs through observation and imitation of models. According to Bandura and Bussey (2004, Brannon, L. 2008) children are most influenced by models who are of the same sex and those who are perceived as being most powerful. However, not all models exert the same level of influence amongst children and are highly successful (Bussey and Bandura, (1984 in Brannon, L. 2008). Bandura (1973, in Brannon, L. 2008) also stresses the importance and existence of the mass media in inducing stereotypes in children and influencing gender-role identification. According to Leaper, Breed, Hoffman, and Perlman, (2002 in Brannon, L. 2008) the way the media portrays the different sexes leads to an association for the child as to what is, and what is not gender appropriate behaviour. Girls are commonly portrayed in...