Highlighting gender promotes stereotyped views in preschoolers

Nov 16, 2010

In many preschool classrooms, gender is very noticeable—think of the greeting, "Good morning, boys and girls" or the instruction, "Girls line up on this side, boys on that." A new study has found that when teachers call attention to gender in these simple ways, children are more likely to express stereotyped views of what activities are appropriate for boys and girls, and which gender they prefer to play with.

The study, by researchers at The Pennsylvania State University, is published in the November/December 2010 issue of Child Development.

The researchers evaluated 57 3- to 5-year-olds at two preschools over a two-week period. The two schools were similar along important dimensions, such as class size, teacher-child ratio, and populations served. In one set of classrooms, teachers were asked to avoid making divisions by sex, which was the policy of the preschool. In the other, teachers were asked to use gendered language and divisions (like lining children up by and asking boys and girls to post their work on separate bulletin boards), but still avoided making statements comparing boys and girls or fostering competition between them (for example, they were asked to avoid saying, "Who can be quieter: or girls?").

At the end of two weeks, the researchers tested the degree to which the children endorsed cultural gender stereotypes (for example, that "only " should play with baby dolls) and asked them about their interest in playing with children of their own and the other sex. The children were also observed during play time to see who they played with.

Children in the classrooms in which teachers avoided characterizations by sex showed no change in responses or behaviors over the two weeks. However, children in the other classrooms showed increases in stereotyped attitudes and decreases in their interest in playing with children of the other sex. They also were observed to play less with children of the other sex.

The findings extend earlier research showing that classroom environments that make divisions by gender lead to increased stereotypes among elementary-school-aged children. By highlighting the powerful effect of environments on preschool children's gender-related beliefs and behaviors, the findings have implications for how teachers structure classrooms and interact with .

Explore further: Motivation explains disconnect between testing and real-life functioning for seniors

More information: Child Development, Vol. 81, Issue 6

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Keep boys and girls together, research suggests

Apr 11, 2008

Boys and girls may learn differently, but American parents should think twice before moving their children to sex-segregated schools. A new Tel Aviv University study has found that girls improve boys’ grades markedly at ...

Preschoolers challenge stereotypical gender roles

Nov 03, 2009

According to research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, a preschooler's gender determines how he or she is treated and responded to in play and learning activities, and when the children's possibilities become expanded, ...

Pursuit of status and affection drives bullies' behavior

Mar 25, 2010

Bullying is common in classrooms around the world: About 15 percent of children are victimized, leading to depression, anxiety, loneliness, and other negative outcomes. What's driving bullies to behave the way they do? According ...

Children's sex affects parents' marital status

May 23, 2006

Parents with a boy and a girl are more likely to stay married, or get married if they were unmarried when their children were born, than those with two boys or two girls according to new research from ANU economist Dr Andrew ...

Recommended for you

What sign language teaches us about the brain

Jul 25, 2014

The world's leading humanoid robot, ASIMO, has recently learnt sign language. The news of this breakthrough came just as I completed Level 1 of British Sign Language (I dare say it took me longer to master signing ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

KomMaelstrom
not rated yet Nov 17, 2010
I feel a great impulse to reply "no shit". But just for the hell of it, why are "captain obvious" studies even done? Is it for legal reasons?