According to B. F. Skinner (1904 - 1990), the term reinforcement refers to strengthening a desired behavior or action from a subject. With the reinforcement settings, a psychologist or parent can increase the probability of the desired response from a client or a child. The stimulus used in reinforcement is reward or compliment to encourage the patient or the child to continue to behave in the desired way.
This means, every time a person is rewarded for his/her behavior, there's a greater chance that he/she will continue to behave that same way till it becomes imprinted in his/her system.
Now if we try to apply such theory in a child’s development it can help us understand how easy it is for an adult to encourage a child to behave in a desired way or discourage a child to behave in certain ways that seem to be abnormal or inappropriate.
But first, in order to properly apply this theory, one must understand clearly, what gender-related behavior or gender stereotype is all about.
According to research, gender-related behaviors or gender stereotypes are simplistic generalizations about the gender attributes, differences, and roles of individuals and/or groups. Stereotypes can be positive or negative. However, research also shows that they rarely communicate accurate information about the other gender and always involved gender role stereotyping.
Gender role stereotyping occurs when a person is expected to enact a series of norms or behaviors based upon his/her sex (Sydney McClary & Indiana State University, 2013).
Gender is a combination of social construction, and other social categories such as race, ethnicity, class, religion, language, etc. Some of the gender-related behaviors that are developed through reinforcement and punishment are but not limited to:
1) Every time a girl try to lift something that seems to be heavy, her mother screams at her to stop and calls her brother to come to lift that object. What the girl’s mother has technically done is reinforcing the behavior that women are not as strong as men that perhaps has already been implanted in her brain by various social settings. Through that example, the girl learns lifting anything heavy is a man’s job, not a girl’s job.
2) The second example of reinforcement can be, every time a father is doing outdoor activities such as camping, fishing, or hiking he takes his son with him but not his daughter. In this scenario, the boy learns that outdoor activities are made for men.
As far as the girl, she learns through this scenario that outdoor activities are not made for women, but men. This example above is another form of reinforcement theory.
3) The third example of how reinforcement can be used to strengthen gender behavior is, every time a boy tries to help his mother in the kitchen, she asks him to leave and go play outside with the other boys or go watch TV instead. This form of reinforcement tells the boy that kitchen works are made for women, not for men.
4) Fourth example; a boy who’s crying after being hated by her sister and then his father yelled at him "stop acting like a little girl". This is a form of punishment theory that teaches the boy that men do not cry. As a result, he now learns not to express his feeling or emotion next time.
5) Fifth example; every time a little girl cries, her mother puts her on her lap in order to comfort her. This encourages the little girl to express her feeling more often and that crying is okay for a girl.
Another way reinforcement techniques can be used to encourage gender behavior is, a girl's parents buy her for Christmas a doll, a house filled with kitchen accessories. This will reinforce the behavior that cooking, taking care of children, as well as maintaining the house is her job as a woman.
Argosy University (2015). Theory of Gender Development. Data Retrieved on 04/09/2015, from: https://digitalbookshelf.argosy.edu/#/books/0558217257/pages/48386154?return=/books/0558217257/outline/7
Boeree, C. G. (1998). B. F. Skinner. Data Retrieved on 04/09/ 2015, from; http://www.ship.edu/%7Ecgboeree/skinner.html
Erin R. and M Christopher N. (2008). Asymmetry of Reinforcement and Punishment in Human Choice. Data Retrieved on 04/09/2015, from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2251321/
Sydney McClary and Indiana State University (2013). Sexism and Gender Stereotypes. Data Retrieved on 04/09/2015, from: https://www.indstate.edu/diversity/docs/Sexism%20and%20Gender%20Stereotypes%20Final1.pdf