Martin and Halverson (1981), like Kohlberg, believed that gender development involves acquiring information about one’s own gender. However, Martin and Halverson argued that children start to learn about gender – appropriate behaviour before gender constancy is achieved. They claimed that basic gender identity (gender labelling) is sufficient for a child to identify him/herself as boy/girl and take an interest in what behaviours are appropriate.
Martin and Halverson explained gender development in terms of schemas, organised clusters of information about gender appropriate behaviour. Children learn these schemas from their interactions with people, such as learning about what toys are appropriate toys for each gender, what clothes to wear and so on. These gender schemas provide a means of interpreting the environment and selecting appropriate types of behaviour, with children’s perceptions becoming sex – typed.
In – group schemas relate to attitudes and expectation relating to one’s own gender, while out – group schemas relate to the other gender. Toys, games and even objects become categorised as ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ and children increasingly indulge in gender – stereotyped activites, actively ignoring the other gender. An important aspect of Gender Schema theory is that it can explain the power og gender beliefs. Gender beliefs lead children to hold very fixed gender attitudes because they ignore any information they encounter that is not consistent with ingroup information.
For example, if a boy sees a film with a male nurse, this information is ignored because the man is not behaving consistenly with the boys’ ingroup schema. Therefore, the boy does not alter his existing schema. In this way gender schema have a profound effect on what is reme,mbered. There is research support for the view that gender stereotypes are acquired before constancy. Martin and Little (1990) found that children under the age of four showed no signs of gender constancy, but did display strong gender stereotypes about what boys and girls were permitted to do.
This shows that they have acquired information about gender roles before Kohlberg suggested, in line with gender schema theory. The concept of schemas is also supported by research that shows children do not simply pay more attention to consistent schemas but remember them better. Martin and Halverson (1981) found that when children were asked to recall pictures of people, children under six recalled more of the gender – consistent ones (such as a male fire – fighter or female teacher) than gender – inconsistent ones (such as a male nurse or female chemist).
The importance of schemas is shown in research by Bradbard et al. (1986). If gender schemas are important in acquiring information about gender then we would expect children to pay greater attention to information consistent with their gender schemas (about being a boy or a girl). Children aged between four and nine were told that gender neutral items (e. g. burglar alarm, pizza cutter) were either boy or girl items. Participants took a greater interest in toys labelled as ingroup (i. e. a boy was more interested in a toy labelled as a boy toy.
There are some obvious limitations to the cognitive developmental approach. One limitation is that there is evidence that the way we think may not be related to the way we behave. For example, Durkin (1995) observed that couples who agree to share domestic tasks in reality don’t do it. In other words their intentions/ thoughts don’t match their actual behaviour. Cognitive developmental theory differs from various other accounts of gender development.
For example, the biological approach explains that gender identity is mainly influenced by genes and hormones. Hormones may influence brain development so a person’s brain is masculinised or feminised and this could lead to gender role behaviours rather than these being acquired by learning about gender schemas. The evolutionary view, which is also biological, suggests that gender role behaviours are adaptive. In contrast the cognitive developmental view is that gender – appropriate behaviours are learned by seeing what other people of the same gender are doing.