Gender Roles and Gender Differences
The challenge for psychologists is to determine how the similarities and differences
between males and females originate in the developing child and articulate the process
that contributes to gender-specific behavioral patterns.
Identification- Freud‟s notion that children acquire gender identity by identifying with and
imitating their same-sex parent.
Cognitive social learning theory: children acquire gender identification both through
parent‟s direct guidance and encouragement and by imitating parents and other people.
Children understand gender quite early and parents behaving differently to males and
females influence this understanding.
Gender-schema theory (information processing approach): children as young as 2½
begin to develop their own naïve theories about gender differences and gender
Cognitive development theory (Lawrence Kohlberg): children categorize themselves as
male or female based on physical and behavioural clues and then proceed to behave in
gender appropriate ways at age 6-7.
Evolutionary approaches to psychology: principles of natural selection and adaptation.
DEFINING SEX AND GENDER
Gender: refers to cognitive and social differences.
Sex: refers to biological and physiological differences.
Gender typing: process by which children acquire the values, motives, and behaviours
considered appropriate for their gender and particular culture.
Gender-based beliefs: ideas and expectations about what is appropriate behaviour for males
Gender stereotypes: beliefs that members of a culture hold about how females and males
ought to behave; what behaviours are acceptable and inappropriate for each.
Gender roles: composites of the behaviour actually exhibited by a typical male or female in
a given culture; the reflection of a gender stereotype in everyday life.
Gender identity: perception of oneself as either masculine or feminine.
Gender role preference: desires to possess certain gender typical characteristics.
Sexual preferences: preference for same or opposite-sex romantic partners.
GENDER-ROLE STANDARDS AND STEREOTYPES
As soon as children are born, parents and other socialization agents systematically teach
them standards for behaviour that are gender based. (Giving them male/female names,
decorating their rooms in gender specific themes/colours, dressing them distinctively,
The standards of gender roles and their intensities varies within cultures and ethnicities
Family influences and education affect gender roles and stereotypes. GENDER DIFFERENCES IN DEVELOPMENT
*Table 13-1 page 507
Developmental Patterns of Gender Typing
- Children develop gender-typical behavioural patterns at an early age. They differ in
preferences for girl or boy toys. Girls were often found to play with gender-inappropriate
toys and this may be because the western society is male oriented, and there is more pressure
for males to maintain behaviours that are male-typical and they are discouraged from female-
like behaviour. However, there is no such pressure on girls.
- Males and females do develop distinctive patterns of interest consistent with gender
stereotypes throughout their lives in the activities and interests they choose and parents
encourage these patterns.
Stability of Gender Typing
- With the onset of puberty, girls tend to move back toward strict gender typing due to
pressure from parents and peers and their increasing interest in romantic relationships.
- Gender typical behaviour in childhood that was consistent with cultural acceptance tended
to continue into adulthood, but inconsistent behaviour usually was not as stable.
- Gender roles may shift as adults meet demands of new situations and circumstances
Expressive characteristics: presumably typical of females, these characteristics include
nurturance and concern with feelings.
Instrumental characteristics: Presumable typical of males, include task and occupation
Gender Differences in Abilities
- Boys tend to be more skilled at: manipulating objects, constructing three-dimensional
forms, and mentally manipulating complex figures and pictures; correct judgments of spatial-
visual relations, geometry.
- Boys are more likely to suffer from social and communicative difficulties. Autism is 4
times more common in boys than in girls.
- Girls speak and write earlier and tend to be better at spelling and grammar than boys.
BIOLOGICAL FACTORS IN GENDER DIFFERENCES
Hormones and Social Behaviour
- Male hormones, called androgens: testosterone is the principle and most potent one.
- Female hormones: estrogen and progesterone.
- The diff in the concentrations of the hormones become pronounced after puberty.
- In the prenatal period: fetal testosterone is the major determinant of the anatomic sex of the
fetus; hormones organize the fetus‟s biological and psychological predispositions to be
masculine or feminine. The surge of hormones during puberty activates these early
-Prenatal exposure to high levels of male androgens shows more masculine behaviours, even
if the offspring is female.
Money and colleagues: studies prenatal hormonal anomalies and found that if girls with
high levels of androgens were reassigned to their correct feminine role early in development (critical period), they experienced normal psychosexual development-
gender roles are highly dependent on social factors.
A major challenge to Money‟s theory was the John/Joan case- David Reimer accidently
had his penis amputated as an 8-month old. Parents decided he should undergo sex
change and be given female hormones, and they raised him as a girl. „Brenda‟ never felt
comfortable as a girl and insisted that she was a boy, later found out about what had
happened, and got extensive surgeries back to a male. He eventually got married, but it
was difficult. And he eventually committed suicide.
Hormones and Cognitive Skills
- At a critical period in prenatal development, sex hormones may determine a fetus‟s brain
organization which leads to gender diff in male and female verbal and spatial skills.
-support for this is seen: when androgen levels are high in female fetus‟s they have better
- According to Silverman and Choi, males employ an orientations strategy with distance,
vectors, and cardinal directions. Females employ topographical or landmark strategies,
including relative directions such as right, in front of or behind.
- However, these differences can be influenced and affected by culture and environment.
Brain Lateralization and Gender Differences
- Some evidence suggests that males brains are more lateralized than women; their
hemispheres are more specialized.
Biological Programming and Cultural Expectations
- The role of biological “programming” in shaping gender-role standards and gender typing:
are women‟s abilities to have and breast-feed a baby biologically programmed which makes
them more responsive to the sights and signals of infants and children?
-at age 4-5, girls interact more with children and respond actively, whereas boys watch the
- No differences were seen in mother‟s and father‟s responses to an infant‟s crying in
measures of responsiveness (change in BP, electrical skin conductance etc.)
COGNITIVE FACTORS IN GENDER TYPING
- Children‟s own understanding of gender roles and rules contributes to the process of
* Turning points chart on page 516
Kohlberg‟s Cognitive Developmental Theory
Cognitive developmental theory of gender typing: Kohlberg‟s theory that children use
physical and behavioural clues to differentiate gender roles and to gender type themselves
very early in life.
3 phases in gaining and understanding of gender:
1. Between ages 2-3: acquire basic gender identity, recognizing that they are either male or
2. Ages 4-5: acquire concept of gender stability: accepting that males remain males and
females remain females. (boy no longer thinks he will grow up to become a mommy, and
girl doesn‟t believe she can become Spiderman) 3. Age 6-7: children acquire the notion of gender constancy: recognizing that superficial
changes in appearance or activities do not alter gender.
Genital knowledge affects gender constancy.