Children’s Search for Gender Cues

Cognitive Perspectives on Gender Development

Research suggests genes and prenatal hormones could have more sway in gender identity than previously thought.

2004 Study Abstract

Young children search for cues about gender—who should or should not do a particular activity, who can play with whom, and why girls and boys are different.

From a vast array of gendered cues in their social worlds, children quickly form an impressive constellation of gender cognitions, including gender self-conceptions (gender identity) and gender stereotypes.

Cognitive perspectives on gender development (i.e., cognitive developmental theory and gender-schema theory) assume that children actively search for ways to make sense of the social world that surrounds them.

Gender identity develops as children realize that they belong to one gender group, and the consequences include increased motivation to be similar to other members of their group, preferences for members of their own group, selective attention to and memory for information relevant to their own sex, and increased interest in activities relevant to their own sex.

Cognitive perspectives have been influential in increasing understanding of how children develop and apply gender stereotypes, and in their focus on children’s active role in gender socialization.

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