Course: Psychology
Group of courses: Society and Social Sciences

Teaching/course objectives:

Students should be introduced to the theoretical principles, empirical findings and methodological concepts of gender studies in the area of psychology. They should be enabled to recognise the significance of the category of gender for psychological issues, both in terms of research and its application. They should also learn how to draw on this understanding to contribute to gender equality in various areas of life.

Teaching content/subject-specific gender studies content:

Gender in psychology should cover at least three areas:

  • Biological gender (referred to as "sex") and its impact on individuals' thinking, emotions and actions. This is discussed in some evolutionary theories, as well as bio-psychological theories, for example.
  • Psychological gender, or individuals' self perception in terms of their gender role (referred to as "gender"), i.e. the perspective that people develop on themselves as men and women, and which forms a dynamic part of their overall self-perception. This is discussed, for example, in theories on the development of gender identity and the stability and dynamics of self-perception in terms of gender role over the course of one's life, and dependent on personal experiences.
  • Social gender, or the social category of gender role (also referred to as "gender"), i.e. society's view of what are typical female and male characteristics, expressed in the form of gender stereotypes that are highly resistant to change. This is discussed, for example, in theories on the development and function of stereotypes, as well as in theories dealing with the influence of social roles on the evaluation of individuals in those roles.

A fourth perspective would also be very useful namely, examining gender in different cultural and historical contexts. Here, theoretical approaches have recently been developed in the form of integrative conceptualisations of "sex" and "gender".

As well as looking at the differences between these theoretical approaches (from biology, individual/developmental psychology, social psychology, and cultural psychology), the necessity of integrating them to form a comprehensive psychological concept of "gender" should also be explored.

The different theoretical approaches to gender should also be explored through case studies.

In the evolutionary and biological approach, for example, it is important to show how the different evolutionary tasks of the genders impact on their psychological characteristics, while demonstrating that mechanisms that originally have to do with evolution (such as gender-specific preferences in the choice of a partner) in fact vary according to the cultural situation of the genders, and are not "predetermined by nature".

In developmental psychology, students should learn how gender identity develops in children and how important a stable gender identity is for psychological well-being. In socialisation theory, students should examine the different institutions of socialisation for the different genders, which potentially contribute to the strengthening of existing gender stereotypes.

In differential psychology, it is important that students are shown how gender differences have changed historically (e.g. over the last 100 years). For example, gender differences in cognitive performance almost disappeared during the last century, primarily due to the creation of equal access to education for girls and boys. Moreover, meta-analyses of gender differences in psychological characteristics consistently indicate that this stereotype is overestimated.

Social psychology thus has to do with "gender in context", i.e. how gender is constructed by the participants in social situations. "Gender" is one of the first categories we use when we meet a new person; this triggers further gender-related associations and can lead to a gender-stereotyped evaluation of the other person. Our expectations thus perpetuate differences which hardly exist in reality. Social psychology is also about showing that the roles that people play, as well as affecting their own personalities and self-image, can also affect how others perceive understand and ascribe particular characteristics. For example, people who play "family" roles are judged differently from those who play "work" roles; accordingly, the success that people achieve in their "work" role impacts on their personality and self-image. Social psychology is particularly important when it comes to the reciprocal effect between, on the one hand, social conditions and role patterns for women and men and, on the other, the attribution of "appropriate" psychological qualities to oneself and others.

These approaches help to underscore the importance of a gender-sensitive approach in almost all areas of psychology. At the same time, they show students the relevance of the subject matter in terms of its practical application.

As well as its relevance for biological, developmental, differential and social psychology, the subject matter is relevant for clinical, educational, occupational and organisational psychology, and other areas. These include:

  • Clinical psychology: Gender-specific disorders and their connection with the sufferer's personal environment (internalised versus externalised disorders; different types of disorders found people with different roles)
  • Educational psychology: Participation in education and the educational promotion of girls and boys; coeducation; gender-specific teacher expectations; boys as the new "problem group" in education; developing interests at school gender comparisons
  • Occupational and organisational psychology: Discrepancies between the educational and professional careers of women; work-place discrimination; combining career with family; work/life balance, etc.

Forms of integration of gender studies content into the curriculum:

Gender issues should be integrated into both individual classes and various modules of the degree course, as a cross-disciplinary subject (biological psychology, developmental psychology, differential and personality psychology, social psychology, clinical psychology, educational psychology, occupational psychology, organisational psychology). "Sex and gender" can be offered as a special subject within developmental psychology, differential psychology, or social psychology.

Degree stage:

It is vital that this content is included at bachelor's stage, right from the first semester. Master's courses in more specialised areas of psychology should also cover gender.