Describe research into social influences on gender. (8 marks)

The specification mentions four examples of social influences on gender (parents, peers, schools, media), but you don't have to include all of these and can include others not on the specification. 'Research' in this question includes theories and studies; both will be awarded marks.

Parents reinforce behaviour that they deem gender-appropriate in their children. This is often done through differential reinforcement, whereby the children are rewarded for gender-appropriate behaviour and are not rewarded for any other behaviour. For example, parents will reward girls (e.g. by giving them attention) when they behave in a feminine way, but they will not be rewarded if they exhibit masculine behaviours; this reinforces feminine behaviour. Parents may also punish children for exhibiting behaviour that is not gender-appropriate, making them less likely to repeat this behaviour in the future.

Peers are also another important source of gender development, particularly in adolescence and late childhood. Peers act as models for gender-appropriate behaviour, and like parents they usually reinforce gender-appropriate behaviour. In these interactions children reward each other for gender-appropriate behaviour and punish each other for gender-inappropriate behaviours.

Gender development is heavily influenced in school environments. This is partly because it provides an environment for children to interact, leading to peer influence as written about previously. However, teachers are another source of influence. They are also likely to reinforce gender-appropriate behaviours and aspirations. They can also act as role models, increasing their influence on gender development.

The media is another source of social influence. It is important in communicating gender stereotypes. The media generally portrays males as independent, directive and pursuing engaging occupations and activities, while females are portrayed as dependent, unambitious and emotional. This exposes children to models of gender-appropriate behaviour. The media also provides information about likely outcomes of these behaviours, and an individual’s self-efficacy will increase if the outcomes are portrayed as positive.

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