These theories attempt to explain the behavioral differences between men and women.

Psychodynamic theory

Basic ideas:

· Freud argued that “anatomy is destiny”.

· Boys identify with their father to resolve the Oedipus complex and to reduce their castration anxiety.

· Girls identify with their mother to resolve the Electra complex and reduce their penis envy.

· Gender identification leads to sex-typed behavior.

Research evidence

· Boys with absent fathers around the Oedipal stage show less sex-typed behavior (Stevenson & Black, 1988; see PIP p.556).

· There is no evidence of castration anxiety or penis envy.

· There is no evidence that threatening fathers produce greater identification (Mussen & Rutherford, 1963; see PIP p.556).


· The psychodynamic theory of gender development was the first attempt to explain the acquisition of gender identity as part of the developmental process.

· However, it emphasizes the influence of the same-sex parent and ignores other family members. It also ignores cognitive factors. Therefore, although it is an interesting theory, there is little evidence.

Social learning theory

Basic idea:

· Bandura (1977a; see PIP p.556) believed that gender is learned through observation and imitation, reward and punishment.

Research evidence

· According to Fagot and Leinbach (1989; see PIP p.557) parents rewarded sex-typed behavior in the under 2's (but were differences evident in the children anyway?).

· Fagot (1985; see PIP p.557) determined that boys were affected more when reinforced by other boys than by teachers or girls.

· According to Perry and Bussey (1979; see PIP p.557), 8- to 9-year-olds copied the activities of the same-sex model.

· Barkley et al. (1977; see PIP p.557) favored the same-sex model in only 18/81 studies.

· Frueh and McGhee (1975; see PIP p.557) showed there was a correlation between the amount of TV watched and sex-typed behavior in 4- to 12-year-olds.

· Williams (1986; see PIP p.557) showed there was more sex-role stereotyping in towns with TV and an increase in stereotyping when a TV was obtained in towns initially without.


· This theory recognizes the social context and importance of rewards.

· However, the effects of observation and teachers on gender development are often quite modest. Furthermore, this theory assumes children are passive, and it ignores the role of cognition (schemas) and instead focuses on behaviors rather than general learning. Therefore it can be considered specific and well-researched, but cannot account for all aspects.

Cognitive-developmental theory

Basic ideas, according to Kohlberg (1966; see PIP p.559):

· Gender identity is part of general cognitive development.

· Children attend to same-sex models as a result of acquiring gender identity.

· Gender identity is acquired in stages.

Stage Age Description

Gender identification 2–3.5 years Believe it is possible to change sex

Gender stability 3.5–4.5 years Sex is stable over time, not situations

Gender consistency 4.5–7 years Sex is stable

Research evidence

· Munroe et al. (1984; see PIP p.559) show that children in four cultures show the above stages.

· Slaby and Frey (1975; see PIP p.559) show that children with gender consistency attend more to the same-sex model.

· Fagot and Leinbach (1989; see PIP p.560) shows that children who show identification earlier show increasing sex-typed play between 16and 27 months.

· However, according to Huston (1985; see PIP p.560), sex-typed behavior is present 14 months, before gender stability.

· Martin et al. (2002; see PIP p.560) show that infants under 24 months can discriminate between male and female faces.


· There is support for the stages and effect of identification on sex-typed behavior.

· However, the theory ignores external factors and social context and exaggerates the importance of cognitive factors. Therefore, the theory is useful but cannot account for all findings.

Gender-schema theory

The basic idea, according to Martin and Halverson (1987; see PIP p.560):

· Information about gender is organized into sets of beliefs about the sexes, such as which toys are for girls and which toys are for boys. These schema guide behavior.

Research evidence

· According to Martin and Halverson (1983; see PIP p.561), schema-inconsistent information is distorted to make it more consistent on later recall.

· Bradbard et al. (1986; see PIP p.561) believed that children behaved in accordance with what they had been told about the gender-appropriateness of neutral toys.

· Masters et al. (1979; see PIP p.561)—child's gender labeling influences their choice of toy more than the sex of the adult who is playing with it.

· Serbin et al. (1993; see PIP p.561): boys and girls have equivalent amounts of knowledge in their gender schemas, but boys show more sex-typed behavior.


· Gender-schema theory helps explain the consistency in behavior after schema forms.

· However, it ignores social factors, and the link between schema and behavior may not be strong. Therefore, there is some good evidence but some weak points.

Biological theories

Basic idea:

· Biological differences in chromosomes (X/Y) and hormones (testosterone/estrogen) determine the behavioral differences between boys and girls.

Research evidence

· According to Young et al. (1964; see PIP p.562) testosterone given to pregnant monkeys produced greater aggression in their offspring.

· According to Money and Ehrhardt (1972; see PIP p.562):

· Females exposed to the male sex hormone before birth are more tomboyish.

· A male reared as female after a circumcision accident differed from his twin.

· However, in Diamond's follow-up study (1982; see PIP p.562), the twin wasn't securely male or female in later years.

· Imperato-McGinley et al. (1974; see PIP p.563) showed that late bursts of testosterone caused males to rear as females to change roles, suggesting biological factors override social factors.

· Collaer and Hines (1995; see PIP p.563) reviewed the numerous studies, and argued a good case for three effects of male sex hormones:

· Increased preference for physical activity.

· Increased preference for aggressive behavior.

· Influence on sexual orientation in adolescence.


· Biological factors have been shown to play a role in gender development, in particular, excessive male sex hormones.

· However, biological theories cannot explain the impact of social factors or account for historical changes or cultural differences. Therefore, again there is evidence, but this is only part of the picture.

Recent theories
Social cognitive theory

Basic ideas:

· A theory to combine the cognitive and external factors.

· Suggests that gender development is promoted by three modes of influence:

Mode Description

Observational learning Modelling and imitation

Enactive experience Outcomes of actions

Direct tuition Teaching by others

· Children compare their own behavior against their standards (self-regulation).

· They imitate behaviors that will increase their self-efficacy.

Group experiences theory

The basic idea (Maccoby, 1998, 2002; see PIP p.564):

· What children experience in same-sex peer groups affects their gender development.

Research evidence

· According to Martin and Fabes (2001; see PIP p.564), boys who spent more time in such groups showed more sex-typed behavior.


Although fewer than expected, there are some gender differences in behavior. There are also some cultural differences, though the stereotypes of females being nurturant and males being instrumental are very widespread across cultures. Gender differences may be accounted for by a range of biological, social, and cognitive factors.