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Kohlberg's Cognitive-Developmental Theory

Lawrence Kohlberg (1966, 1969) suggested that children had made a cognitive judgement about their gender identity before they selected same sex models for sex typed behavoirs.

The three stages of Kohlberg's Cognitives-Developmental Theory

  • Basic gender indentity. The child kowns that he or she is a male or a female, but the child fails to realize that gender is a constant attribute. Most three year olds had reached this stage.
  • Gender stability. The child knows that their gender is stable over time. A child in this stage knows that boys will grow up to be men and that girls will grow up to be women.
  • Gender consistency. The child knows a person gender stay the same regardless of changes in the person's activitives or appearance. For example, A 6 or 7 year old who had reached this stage knows a person gender stay the same when a person dressup like a member of the other sex or when a person does cross-sex activitives.

    When a children had achieved gender consistency, they are highly motivated to make their bahavior consistent with their self concept of thier own gender.

    William Damon (1977) tested Kohlberg's cognitive development theory of sex typing in a study of 4 to 9 year olds. A story about a little boy named George was told to each child. George refuses to stop playing with dolls, even though his parent had told him that dolls are for girls and that boys should play with other toys. The children were asked a series of question about George to learn how they view sex role stereotypes.
    The following are some of question the childern were asked about George.

    1. Why do people tell George not play with dolls? Are they right?
    2. Is there a rule that boys shouldn't play with dolls? Where does it come from?
    3. What should George do?
    4. What if George wanted to wear a dress to school? Can he do that?

    Four year olds have egocentric believe that cross sex behavior is Ok as long as a child really want to do that behavior.

    Some answers of 4 year old boy named Jack
    Is it ok for boys to play with dolls?
    Because they wanted to
    So what should George do?
    Play with dolls.
    Because it's up to him...
    Can boys have dresses?
    Why not?
    Because boys don't wear them.
    Does George have the right to wear a dress to school if he want to?
    Yes, but he didn't want to.
    Is it ok if he wanted to?
    It's up to him.

    By the age six years, children become extremely intolerant of others who violates traditional standands of masculinity or femininity when acquire gender constancy.

    6 year old boy named Micheal
    Why do you think people tell George not to play with dolls?
    Well, he should only play with things that boys play with. The things that he is playing with now is girls' stuff...
    Can George play with Barbie dolls if he wants to?
    No sir!
    What should George do?
    He should stop playing with girls' dolls and start playing with G.I. Joe.
    Why can a boy play with G.I. Joe and not a Barbie doll?
    Because if a boy is playing with a Barbie doll, then he's just going to get people teasing him... and if he tries to play more, to get girls to like him, then the girls won't like him either.

    The nine year old children were less chauvinistic about sex role standands and sex typed activities. They are able more able to think abstractly and see the arbitrary nature of many sex role stereotypes. They have a more flexible view of sex role standards as social conventions rather than moral absolutes which everyone must obey.

    9 year old boy named James
    What do you think his parent should do?
    They should get him trucks and stuff, and see if he will play with those.
    What if he still kept on playing with doll? Do you think they would punish him?
    How come?
    It's not really doing anythiny bad.
    Why isn't it bad?
    Because if he was breaking window, and he kept on doing that they could punish him, because you're not supposed to break windows. But if you want to you can play with dolls.
    What's the difference?
    Well breaking windows you're not supposed to do. And if you play with dolls, you can, but boys usually don't.


    Damon, Willian (1977). The social world of the child. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

    Kohlberg, Lawrence (1966). A cognitive-developmental analysis of children's sex- role concepts and attitudes. In E. E. Maccody (Ed.), The development of sex differences. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

    Kohlberg, Lawrence (1969). Stage and sequence: The cognitive-developmental approach to socialization. In D. A. Goslin (Ed.), Handbook of socialization theory and research. Chicago: Rand McNally.

    Sex Role Development

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    copyright 2002: Burton Craddock