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Social role theory was developed by Alice H. Eagly as an explanation for the causes of psychological sex differences in behavior. That is, it answers the question of why men and women sometimes behave differently. Central to the theory is the idea of gender roles, or the beliefs about how men and women act and should act. Gender roles create expectations about men’s and women’s behavior, which individual men and women are then socialized (i.e., taught) to fulfill. This entry explains the main tenets of social role theory, including how the theory approaches cross-cultural variation in sex differences, the formation of stereotypes, the processes by which gender roles influence behavior, the causes of gender roles, and the implications for change in gender roles and stereotypes.

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