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Upton I 84
Gender Identity/Developmental psychology/Upton: Once children realise that there are two genders and that they belong to one of them, they begin to show a clear motivation to behave in the ways that a member of that gender ‘should’; they dress in the same way, and choose friends, activities and toys to suit this label. Bem (1989)(1) suggests that having labelled themselves as either male or female, the child begins to develop a gender schema. This mental model of what males and females ‘do’ – the gender role – is based upon observations of other members of the same group. Children pay more attention to the behaviour of same-gender peers so as to remember more about how their own group behaves and imitate that behaviour (Ruble and Martin, 1998)(2). Children may even show hostility to the other gender (Ruble and Martin, 1998)(2).
Question: If childhood is preparation for adulthood, don’t children need to learn to cooperate with each other, and not segregate themselves by gender?
1. One explanation seems to be that it is only by committing wholeheartedly to a particular social group that the child can develop conceptual coherence – and this includes subscribing to an extreme version of gender-typed behaviour.
2. An alternative explanation is that the differences we see in male and female behaviour are biologically rather than socially determined. There is evidence to suggest that hormones play a role in behaviours such as aggression, play patterns and attitudes to gender roles (Reiner and Gearhart, 2004)(3).
It has also been found that children display preferences for gender-appropriate toys by six months, well before they have knowledge of gender roles (Alexander et al., 2008)(4).
There is (…) evidence that carers’ responses to their children depend in part
Upton I 85
on whether their child is male or female (Maccoby, 2003)(5), with fathers showing greater differential treatment than mothers (Leaper, 2002)(6).



1. Bem, S.L. (1989) Genital knowledge and gender constancy in preschool children. Child Development, 60: 649–62.
2. Ruble, D.N. and Martin, C.L. (1998) Gender development, in Eisenberg, N (eds) Handbook of Child Psychology, Vol. 3: Social, emotional, and personality development (6th edn). New York: Wiley.
3. Reiner, W.G. and Gearhart, J.P. (2004) discordant sexual identity in some genetic males with cloacal exstrophy assigned to female sex at birth. New England Journal of Medicine, 350: 333–41.
4. Alexander, G., Wilcox, T. and Woods, R. (2008) Sex differences in infants’ visual interest in toys. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38(3): 427–33.
5. Maccoby, EE (2002) Gender and group processes. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11: 54–8.
6. Leaper, C (2002) Parenting girls and boys, in Bornstein, MH (ed.) Handbook of Parenting, Vol. 1: Children and parenting. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Developmental Psychology
Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011


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