Social Influences on Gender Roles

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General
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Social learning theory explains how gender-role behaviours are learnt; it says that we acquire new behaviours through observing what other people do and then imitating this behaviour. This can be through: parents, peers, teachers and the media. .
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Operant conditioning
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Leaning by reinforcement i.e. if a gender-specific behaviour is positively reinforced then it is likely to be repeated,
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Classical conditioning
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i.e. gender roles are learnt through association, so seeing certain behaviour and a gender paired constantly together forms an association such as men and football.
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Family Influence
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Social learning theory would explain parenting involvement in gender roles in that a child would observe a same-sex parent acting in a certain way and being rewarded for that behaviour they will copy this behaviour. For example if a boy sees his father acting aggressively and being rewarded with compliance then the boy would also act this way. Classical conditioning would say that a child would form an association between gender and a behaviour by seeing their parents constantly paired with certain things. For example, a mother being nurturing and caring by providing food forms an association between women and nurturing. Operant conditioning explains parenting in gender roles as parents positively reinforcing certain gender behaviours in their children so they repeat behaviours, or vice versa. For example a father punishing a son for playing with dolls and giving praise when he is playing football, the boy will play football.
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Smith & Lloyd
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Smith and Lloyd supports this idea, as they observed adults playing with a baby who was dressed in gender-neutral colours but given a girl or boy name. Adults typically played more physically with the boys and the toys offered were stereotyped to specific genders. This is important as the babies would then form associations with certain things/toys, displaying how parents can influence gender roles. This is a highly controlled study and therefore good psychology as a science as there were few confounding variables. However this means it was lacking ecological validity and participants were very restrictive with what toys to give and how to act, and therefore it may not be representative of real life.
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Media Influence
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The media is also a source of gender development. Social learning theory explains media involvement in gender roles in that a child would observe media role models of certain sexes acting in a certain way and copy that behaviour. For example men are often seen as independent and focussed whereas women are seen as dependant, so girls and boys would act in those ways. Associations will form via classical conditioning between genders and certain things if they are continuously portrayed together in the media. E.g. in TV adverts women seen wearing makeup and being beautiful will make girls also wear makeup. Operant conditioning would explain gender roles as negative reinforcement shown on media would deter boys and girls from behaving in such ways and positive reinforcement will make them want to behave in that way. For example negative reinforcement would be public news of crimes acted towards homosexuals, or else positive reinforcement would be being rewarded for acting aggressively in video games.
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Dietz
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Dietz (2007) used content analysis to examine the portrayal of woman and the use of violence in a sample of 33 videogames. The analysis revealed that traditional gender roles and violence were central to many games. In 41% there were no females and 28% females were portrayed as sex objects. 80% included violence and aggression. This shows that video games can be a source of operant conditioning as rewards are given for acting aggressively and social learning theory as boys will imitate the aggression. However, it can be argued by the nature argument that due to higher levels of testosterone boys are naturally more aggressive and therefore should play these games as opposed to girls. Plus, due to the fact video games have changed drastically this study lacks temporal validity.
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Parent Research
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Lee found single parent families had much more positive behaviour from their children than dual parent families. Parents also used different discipline strategies depending on the gender of the parent and the child.
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Bandura
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Bandura’s bobo doll experiment further highlights how children learn behaviour through modelled behaviour from others. Adults displayed aggression towards the doll and the children were seen to repeat the behaviour, and this was more likely when such behaviour was rewarding. This highlights how children may learn gender-role behaviour from adults in a similar fashion.
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Evaluation of social influences
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This ignores the biological basis to the differences in children’s behaviour. Baron-Cohen proposed there are male and female differences in the brain, with males preferring rule-based activity and females being better at relationships and feelings.

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