Socialization influences on the acquisition of gender constancy
Hollander, Shlomo Zev
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This research focused on Kohlberg's (1966) cognitive-developmental model of gender constancy. Specifically, the present study was designed to examine the level of gender constancy in 80, 3 and 4-year-old children who, according to Kohlberg's model, were too young to have the necessary cognitive abilities to understand that one's gender remains stable across time and situational contexts. In addition, two different groups were included (i.e., 40 "Frum" Orthodox Jewish and 40 Secular children) to examine whether socialization might influence children's acquisition of gender constancy. Overall, four major findings emerged. First of all, contrary to cognitive-developmental predictions, more than 2/3 of the preschool children attained gender constancy, that is they were aware that gender is unchangeable. Secondly, the findings from the "Frum" Orthodox Jewish vs. Secular groups also appear to be contrary to the basic claims of the cognitive-developmental theory: Children from a "Frum" Orthodox Jewish environment attained gender constancy at a younger age than Secular children. Third, children's level of gender constancy differed in the "real" and "apparent" conditions (i.e. questioning the child if the change in gender is a real one). Children showed higher levels of gender constancy when they were asked whether a gender change was a real one. Finally, consistent with cognitive-developmental theory, however, the perspective that children were asked to take regarding the gender constancy questions (i.e., whether the questions focused on the child him/herself, another child of the same gender, or a child of the opposite gender) did not affect children's gender constancy. Yet, despite this last finding for perspective, the overall pattern of results suggests that socialization plays a more significant role in the acquisition of gender constancy than is postulated by the cognitive-developmental model.