Kohlberg's Cognitive Developmental Theory of Gender

Edited by Jamie (ScienceAid Editor), Taylor (ScienceAid Editor), SmartyPants, Kylieeleanne and 1 other

The Cognitive Theory

Cognition is the mental process of gaining knowledge and through thought, the senses, and experience - the resulting comprehension. The theory we will be looking at is Kohlberg's Cognitive-Developmental Theory. The basic principle of the theory is that a child's understanding of gender develops with age. As part of the theory, Kohlberg identified three stages in gender development.

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  1. 1
    Gender Identity
    .
    This develops at about 2 years of age. It is when the child recognizes they are male or female and other people are as well.
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  2. 2
    Gender Stability
    .
    The next stage happens at about 4 years of age. Gender Stability denotes the child now understands that their gender is fixed and will be male/female when they're older.
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  3. 3
    Gender Constancy
    .
    This happens between 5 and 7 years and is the stage when the child understands that cosmetic changes will not alter sex. For example, a girl wearing jeans is still female.
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The Study: Damon 1977

The study by Damon, in the table below, is the main one for this theory, but following the table, there is also mention of other research that either supports or contradicts these findings.

Aim To see if children's understanding of gender changes over time.
Method A group of children aged 4, 6 and 9 were presented with the story of George, who liked to play with dolls, but his parents didn't think it was appropriate since he is a boy, and then had to discuss it.
Results The 4-year-olds thought is was okay for George to play with dolls; 6-year-olds thought it was wrong and at 9 the children thought it was fine if he wanted to, but it was unusual.
Conclusion Children's understanding of gender develops with age.

Martin and Halverson showed 5-6-year-olds pictures of sex consistent (a girl cooking) and sex-inconsistent behavior. They found that children distorted the memories to fit with their schema (understanding).

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Kuhn et al (1978) also looked into gender stereotyping by asking very young (2-3) children about dolls. They found strong stereotyping and they tended to give positive characteristics to their own gender but not the opposite. This shows that understanding of gender exists even at a very young age.

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Evaluation

The first issue with this theory is quite easy to get your head around; it is that the theory is descriptive rather than explanative. This means that the theory tells you what happens but not why.

Another issue is that it may well be that children are at these stages earlier, but because of limits in their language skills, they are not able to verbalize this, therefore, it could be less of a theory of gender development, and more a theory of the ability to talk about different concepts of gender.

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And a final evaluative comment is that it takes a very broad approach. Not all children have the same understanding of gender and it doesn't account for how gender changes over time. For example, 50 years ago childcare would primarily have been the job of women, but nowadays it would seem odd if a father wasn't involved in childcare.

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Questions and Answers

What is the difference between gender stability and gender constancy?

I don't find any major difference in these both stages. If a child has come to know that his sex will remain the same whole life at the age of 4 then what further he will know at the age of 5 or 7..?

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Kohlberg's cognitive developmental theory of gender is divided into three stages, the first being gender identity, the second being gender stability, and the third gender constancy. Each stage represents a different level of understanding that a child goes through during development. Kohlberg suggested that cognition comes before action and behavior, meaning that every action or behavior we act out is influenced by what we know and understand. This would mean, that as children develop or mature cognitively, they would, in turn, mature through their actions.

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  1. 1
    The first stage gender identity
    .
    The child recognizes that he or she is a boy or girl, this thought process also provides the child with the ability to label others. In this stage of cognitive development, if a child had a friend who was a boy named Jack, he could elaborate that Jack is a boy. At this stage, the child will not yet understand that gender is unchanging.
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  2. 2
    The second stage gender stability"
    .
    In this stage, the child begins to understand that gender is a not a variable. Thoughts develop such as, a boy will grow into a man and a girl will grow into a woman.
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  3. 3
    The third stage gender constancy"
    .
    This stage in development is when the child fully comprehends that gender is unchanging. In normal development, this stage occurs around ages 5 - 7. Understanding that although you can act and/or dress as the opposing gender, that will not change your gender. For example, If Jack wore a dress, that would not make him a female, gender wise, Jack remains a male.
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  4. 4
    The differences between the stages of gender stability and gender constancy do not appear to be major
    .
    If the stages were pertaining to the behavioral changes that happen as a result of the cognitive development, the differences between each would be greatly emphasized.
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  5. 5
    When the child comprehends gender as a constant, they are motivated to become social within their gender, generally beginning to seek same sexed models to learn more about gender- stereotypic behaviors.
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  6. 6
    The main difference between the stability and constancy stages is the advancement from having a idea that gender is unchanging, to having a solidified knowledge that one's gender is constant and cannot be changed
    .
    Having confirmed knowledge, allows the child to more comfortably follow gender- stereotypic behaviors and advance socially within their gender.
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Referencing this Article

If you need to reference this article in your work, you can copy-paste the following depending on your required format:

APA (American Psychological Association)
Kohlberg's Cognitive Developmental Theory of Gender. (2018). In ScienceAid. Retrieved May 23, 2018, from https://scienceaid.net/psychology/gender/cognitive.html

MLA (Modern Language Association) "Kohlberg's Cognitive Developmental Theory of Gender." ScienceAid, scienceaid.net/psychology/gender/cognitive.html Accessed 23 May 2018.

Chicago / Turabian ScienceAid.net. "Kohlberg's Cognitive Developmental Theory of Gender." Accessed May 23, 2018. https://scienceaid.net/psychology/gender/cognitive.html.

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Article Info

Categories : Gender

Recent edits by: Kylieeleanne, SmartyPants, Taylor (ScienceAid Editor)

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