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Describe and Discuss the Social Learning Theory of Gender Development

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Describe and discuss the social learning theory of gender development – 10 marks The social learning theory states that gender is effectively learned through others. It also states that there are no differences between males and females psychologically. This would lead to the fact that gender differences occur because of society and other factors such as culture and religion. Firstly, the social learning theory states that individuals learn or develop behaviours through attention and retention. For example through attention the boy watches his dad playing rugby however through retention the boy may recall the things his dad does when fixing a car. This leads to the fact that an individual learns their gender from people in which are surrounding them. These people are called potential models. They may learn off potential models such as family members, teachers or friends or they can learn of other symbolic characters for example characters in TV programmes/books or celebrities. In addition, the social learning theory argues that the individual solely learns about their gender role by copying and acting in ways they see their models behaving.

The two conditions that contribute to an individual performing behaviour are because of reproduction and motivation. Imitation then occurs when the individual reproduces that certain behaviour for example a girl might see her mum cooking then she later attempts to cook herself. However individuals are more likely to reproduce behaviour from role models in which they relate to. For example a little boy to his dad, he might copy his dad’s actions more then his mums. After the individual imitates behaviour reinforcement takes place. Reinforcement occurs when the behaviour rewarded by a positive outcome. For example a little girl may help her mum in the kitchen and her mum may praise her for this. The girl likes to be praised so will keep helping her mum in the kitchen. However, the outcomes in which occur after a behaviour is copied also influences whether that individual will imitate the behaviour. For example a little boy may see football on TV and see that after the match the contestant a male win a prize he will be more influenced to imitate the behaviour. On the other hand if this was a little girl she wouldn’t be influenced to imitate the behaviour because she might not identify with the model or prize. The little girl may also not imitate this behaviour because of sex-role stereotyping.

Other factors in which she may not imitate this behaviour may be because she may think shell get punished for the behaviour since it may not be ‘’lady-like’’. However the social learning theory has many criticisms. The cognitive approach would argue that gender develops in stages this defies the SLT’s view that gender is able to develop and change in any point of the individual’s life depending on their experiences. But the cognitive approach does agree that certain parts of gender are developed in the individual’s lifetime. The cognitive approach also does argue that imitation of same-sex role models happens after the gender is learned and developed. Some biological explanations would question whether gender is really learnt. This is because they believe that a individuals gender is determined before birth and if gender identity is innate. The psychodynamic approach goes against the SLT’s idea that gender development occurs in stages and accuses SLT of focusing too much on behaviour and ignoring the significance of the unconscious mind in gender development. Furthermore, some critics are concerned that most of the evidence for SLT is mostly experimental. Most of the situations which are tested in laboratories have a rare chance of occurring in real life, so is there a point in using information from it.

Also the participant would have a chance to imitate the modelled behaviour straight after observing it. This leads to the fact whether the results can be used to for the SLT approach in judging gender development. Moreover, if gender development occurs through imitation and reinforcement then how would the SLT approach explain why a considerable amount of individuals have behaviour which is gender inappropriate? If the individuals parents/guardians punish depress the behaviour but it still continues without reinforcement then this is questionable also. SLT also fails to explain where the stereotypes came from in the first place and why certain behaviours are reinforced into females than males vice versa. Also the fact that gender stereotypes are the same amongst cultures could suggest that gender development happens more because nature than nurture.

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