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Gender Schema Theory: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:01 What Is Gender Schema Theory?
  • 0:35 What Are Gender Schemas?
  • 3:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Gender schema theory suggests that young children are influenced by society's ideas about what it means to be a male or female in their culture. Learn about gender schema theory, gender schemas, and how they influence childhood development in this lesson.

What Is Gender Schema Theory?

Gender schema theory was first developed by Sandra Bem in 1981 and later expanded by Carol Martin and Charles Halverson in 1983. According to gender schema theory, once children have formed a basic gender identity they start to develop gender schemas. Gender schemas are based on children's interactions and observations of others, their environment, and the culture. These gender schemas are used to organize and direct the child's behavior based on his or her society's gender norms and expectations related to the child's gender.

What Are Gender Schemas?

A gender schema can be thought of as an organized set of gender-related beliefs that influence behavior. Gender schemas are formed as a result of the children's observation of how society defines what it means to be male and female in his or her culture. Gender schemas help determine what the child attends to, how the child interprets the world, and what the child remembers about his or her experiences. In other words, gender schemas organize the child's experiences by providing a means for the child to make sense of new social information. For example, a six-year-old boy may have a schema that contains information about which types of clothing are for girls and which types of clothing are for boys. Since dresses are for girls, the boy would refuse to wear one if presented the opportunity.

According to gender schema theory, children begin by developing a simple concept of what distinguishes a male from a female. Children first learn their own gender by ages two and three. Then, they learn what it means to be a male or female in their society. As soon as the child figures out what it means to be a male or a female, he or she actively seeks information concerning the appropriate gender roles and traits. Then, the child tries to display gender-appropriate behavior. Children take everything they observe of males and females and organize them around their gender schema.

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