The social learning theory of sex differences: Imitation is alive and well

David G. Perry*, Kay Bussey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

181 Citations (Scopus)


The hypothesis that sex role development depends in part on children's tendencies to imitate same-sex individuals more than opposite-sex models is central to most theories of sex typing. Yet E. E. Maccoby and C. N. Jacklin (1974), in a review of the literature, conclude that the hypothesis has been disconfirmed. It is argued here that the research on which Maccoby and Jacklin based their conclusion is weak both methodologically and conceptually. This article presents a modified social learning theory account of the contribution of imitation to sex role development. It is suggested that children learn which behaviors are appropriate to each sex by observing differences in the frequencies with which male and female models as groups perform various responses in given situations. Furthermore, children employ these abstractions of what constitutes male-appropriate and female-appropriate behavior as models for their imitative performance. Exp I, with 48 male and 48 female 8-9 yr olds, confirmed that children engage in these processes. Exp II, with 42 male and 42 female 8-yr-olds, extended the validity of the formulation. It was shown that a child's imitation of an adult is strongly influenced by the degree to which the child believes that the adult usually displays behaviors that are appropriate to the child's sex. Present results reinstate same-sex imitation as a viable mechanism of sex role development. (33 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1699-1712
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1979
Externally publishedYes


  • 9 yr olds
  • beliefs about sex appropriate behavior, same sex imitation &
  • observation &
  • sex role development, 8 &


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