Karen J. Prager, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.
Professor of Psychology and Program Head for Gender Studies
Diplomate in Family Psychology
The University of Texas at Dallas
More Information About Dr. Prager's work
Social Learning Theory and Gender
Social Learning Theory
Emphasizes the role of environmental factors in learning
Three major principles:
Operant conditioning and reinforcement (and differential reinforcement)
Stimulus control of behavior
How can these principles help us to understand gendered behavior?
Predictions of what people will do in situations that call for gender-typed behavior
Predictions of what people will do because they are female or male as a result of learning history.
Start with the family:
Do parents reinforce gendered behavior in children?
Not as much as once believed
Toy and game preference: the exception
Parents may under-report differentially reinforcing behavior
Do fathers differentiate more than mothers?
Toys may be stimuli that elicit differentially reinforcing behaviors
Do children learn gendered behavior by imitating parents and other same-sex models more than other-sex models?
Children dont especially resemble same-sex parents.
Childrens sex-typed behavior is different from adults.
Is gender a reliable predictor of behavior?
According to social learning theory, only when:
1) gender-typed behavior is reinforced for women or men
2) when the same behavior is differentially reinforced
Peers are powerful socializing agents
Gendered play groups have distinct gendered rules (Eleanor Maccoby)
Where is the child-as-actor in this theory? Is the child a passive agent?
How do we account for the fact that children actively pick and choose what they will imitate?
Gender Schema Theory
Schema: a set of ideas that helps an individual organize information (from Jacklin & Reynolds)
Gender schematicity: Refers to individual differences in reliance on gender schemas
Increases with gender knowledge
Accompanied by "education" about status differences between females and males
Ignores genetic influences
Examines family members with different levels of relatedness and
investigates their similarities and differences. Allows estimations of genetic and environmental influence and their interaction.
Suggests personality traits are at least partially inherited
Includes masculinity and femininity
Contrast: attitudes show little effect of inheritability
Difficult to assess parental treatment of child vs. genetic influences. E.g., monozygotic twins treated more similarly by parents than dizygotic twins, thus making genetic influences appear larger.
1. Not just two sets of behavior to learn. Gender roles are complex.
2. Children not only learn about appropriate behavior. They learn about patriarchy.
3. Few studies control for racial/ethnic differences in how stereotypes operate, are learned.
4. "Biology vs. environment" arguments tend to have political underpinnings: they argue for maintaining vs. changing the status quo.