Social Cognitive Theory of Gender Development and Differentiation

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SOCIAL COGNITIVE THEORY OF GENDER DEVELOPMENT AND DIFFERENTIATION Kay Bussey Macquarie University Albert Bandura Stanford University

Abstract Human differentiation on the basis of gender is a fundamental phenomenon that affects virtually every aspect of people’s daily lives. This article presents the social cognitive theory of gender-role development and functioning. It specifies how gender conceptions are constructed from the complex mix of experiences and how they operate in concert with motivational and self-regulatory mechanisms to guide gender-linked conduct throughout the life course. The theory integrates psychological and sociostructural determinants within a unified conceptual structure. In this theoretical perspective, gender conceptions and roles are the product of a broad network of social influences operating interdependently in a variety of societal subsystems. Human evolution provides bodily structures and biological potentialities that permit a range of possibilities rather than dictate a fixed type of gender differentiation. People contribute to their self-development and bring about social changes that define and structure gender relationships through their agentic actions within the interrelated systems of influence.

Bussey, K., & Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Psychological Review, 106, 676-713.

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SOCIAL COGNITIVE THEORY OF GENDER DEVELOPMENT The present article addresses the psychosocial determinants and mechanisms by which society socializes male and female infants into masculine and feminine adults. Gender development is a fundamental issue because some of the most important aspects of people’s lives, such as the talents they cultivate, the conceptions they hold of themselves and others, the sociostructural opportunities and constraints they encounter, and the social life and occupational paths they pursue are heavily prescribed by societal gender-typing. It is the primary basis on which people get differentiated with pervasive effects on their daily lives. Gender differentiation takes on added importance because many of the attributes and roles selectively promoted in males and females tend to be differentially valued with those ascribed to males generally being regarded as more desirable, effectual and of higher status (Berscheid, 1993). Although some gender differences are biologically founded, most of the stereotypic attributes and roles linked to gender arise more from cultural design than from biological endowment (Bandura, 1986; Beall & Sternberg, 1993; Epstein, 1997). This article provides an analysis of gender role development and functioning within the framework of social cognitive theory and distinguishes it from other theoretical formulations. Theoretical Perspectives Over the years several major theories have been proposed to explain gender development. The theories differ on several important dimensions. One dimension concerns the relative emphasis placed on psychological, biological, and sociostructural determinants. Psychologically-oriented theories tend to emphasize intrapsychic processes governing gender development (Freud, 1905/1930; Kohlberg, 1966). In contrast, sociological theories focus on sociostructural determinants of gender-role development and functioning (Berger, Rosenholtz, & Zelditch, 1980; Eagly, 1987a; Epstein, 1988). According to biologically-oriented theories, gender differences arising from the differential biological roles played by males and females in reproduction underlie gender-role development and differentiation (Buss, 1985; Trivers, 1972). A second dimension concerns the nature of the transmission models. Psychological theories typically emphasize the cognitive construction of gender conceptions and styles of behavior within the familial transmission model. This model was accorded special prominence mainly as a legacy of Freud's emphasis on adoption of gender roles within the family through...
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