Discuss the Social Influences in Gender Roles

BANDURA renamed social learning theory as social cognitive theory emphasis the role of cognitive factors in learning. In this theory the source of information is social and what is learned is a cognition, something stored in the mind.  BANDURA proposed that gender role development is the results of learning from social agents who model and reinforce gender role behaviours.

Parents reinforce behaviour that they deem gender-appropriate in their children. Differential reinforcement is where children are rewarded for gender appropriate behaviour and are not rewarded for any other behaviour. For example FAGOT ET AL found that parents who show the clearest patterns of differential reinforcement have children who are quickest to develop strong gender preferences

There is alot of research support for the role of parents in reinforcing gender role. SMITH AND LLOYD found that mothers selected gender appropriate toys for their children such as dolls for girls and squeaky hammers for boys and responded more actively when a boy showed increased motor activity, showing the role of differential reinforcement in gender development. BANDURA ET AL found that parents tend to encourage same-gender children to join them in traditionally gender appropriate behaviours. RUBLE found that while both mothers and fathers contribute to the gender stereotyping of their children, fathers have been found to reinforce gender stereotypes more often than mothers. Haslett found that sex roles stereotypes are well established in early childhood. Massages about what is appropriate based on gender are so strong that even when children are exposed to difference attitude and experiences, they will revert to stereotyped choices.

However no all research supported the role of parents in reinforcing gender role. For example JACKLIN ET AL found that there are no consistent differences in the extent to which boys and girls are reinforced.

The role of schools also reinforces gender roles. Children may find themselves treated differently according to their sex. Gender stereotypes may be confirmed by the way teachers punish and praise their pupils. Sex typed behaviours may be supported by the way classes and curriculum area organised and through the use of teaching resources.

For example HUSTON found that primary school girls received less disapproval than boys, although they were equally disruptive. He also found that teachers reinforce academic behaviour and punish disruptive behaviours regardless of the behaviour being atypical of the sex. FREEMAN found that more boys than girls are identified as being gifted, even though the school achievement records for boys and girls are similar.  MAYER using a sample of 300 teachers of pupils who were under 12, the teachers were asked to nominate a students. Boys appeared more frequently that category even though boys were commonly known for being disruptive.

For example DWECK ET AL (1978) found that teachers reinforced boys for getting things right but reinforced girls for working neatly. However, many such studies were conducted in the US in the 1970s, and their findings may not reflect gender socialization in other times and places.

Cross cultural findings that show variations in gender role between different cultures are consistent with the idea that gender role behaviour is learned. However, a number of studies have found that parents do not directly teach gender role behaviours to their children through selective

reinforcement and punishment but that children acquire gender appropriate behaviours nonetheless. It may therefore be that the learning of gender role occurs through processes other than those specified by social learning theory.

Social learning theory has difficulty explaining how children’s understanding of gender changes over time. It also cannot easily account for how children’s preparedness to imitate a gender role behaviour depends more on whether the behaviour is seen as gender appropriate than the sex of the model demonstrating it. These findings suggest that cognitive processes play a greater role in the learning of gender than social learning theory allows for.

There is also the issue that some aspects of gender role behaviour appear to be universal to all cultures. For example, men are consistently found to be more aggressive than women, regardless of culture. Similarly, there are cross-cultural similarities in the features women and men find desirable in potential reproductive partners (BUSS ET AL, 1990). These universal features suggest that some aspects of gender role are the result of innate, genetic influences that social learning theory does not take account of.

Research evidence has suggested that exposure to TV increases gender stereotypes. WILLIAMS found that children in a Canadian town with access to multiple TV channels had more strongly sex-typed views than children with one or no TV channels. This suggests that exposure to gender stereotypes from TV increases sex-typed views.

Most research evidence for the influence of media on gender stereotypes comes from correlational analyses. The fact that people who watch more TV hold stronger gender-stereotyped views do not necessarily show that TV is the cause of this attitude. One alternative explanation for the correlation is that highly gender-stereotyped children watch more TV as this confirms their world view. Also, most correlations found between TV and gender-stereotyping have been weak, suggesting that the media is not particularly influential.

Research has lead to pressure on broadcasters to alter TV shows to stop reinforcing gender stereotypes in order to alter such attitudes in society. For example PINGREE found that when children were shown commercials in which women were in non-traditional roles, stereotyping was reduced. This could be done more frequently in regular broadcasting in order to weaken or change gender stereotypes.

A criticism of these social models is that they suggest that the processes of learning gender-appropriate behaviours are the same at all ages. However, research shows that the processes by which individuals learn change with ages, sometimes which cognitive developmental theories provide a better explanation for.