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Actual Gender Differences
• There are documented gender differences
– Exs: aggression, activity level, compliance,
emotional expressivity
• Relatively few documented differences
– Gender stereotypes suggest more differences than
are actually documented by research
• Even documented differences are relatively
small in size
– Average performance of males and females is not
extremely different
Figure 15.3 A typical distribution of scores
Siegler, DeLoache and Eisenberg: How Children Develop, Second Edition
Copyright © 2006 by Worth Publishers
Gender Typing
• Process by which a child:
– Becomes aware of his or her gender and that of other
– Acquires information about the characteristics and
behavior viewed as appropriate for males or females
(gender stereotypes)
– Acquires the characteristics and behaviors viewed as
appropriate for either males or females (gender roles)
Development of Gender Awareness
• By 2.5 to 3 years, children label their own
sex and that of other people
• Do not yet understand that sex is a
permanent characteristic
Development of Gender Stereotypes
• By 2.5 years, children have some
knowledge of gender stereotypes
• Over the preschool/early school years,
learn more about toys, activities, and
achievement domains considered
appropriate for boys versus girls
– Ex (achievement): boys are good at math;
girls are good at English
• Preschoolers’ gender stereotypes tend to
be rigid
– Don’t usually realize that characteristics
associated with sex (e.g., activities, clothing)
don’t determine whether one is male or
• May be one reason they treat gender stereotypes
as “rules” rather than as beliefs
• By elementary school, children’s gender
stereotypes are more flexible
– Understand that stereotypes are beliefs, not
– However, older children do not necessarily
approve of “cross-gender” behavior
Development of Gender Role Behavior
• Between approximately 14-22 months,
children begin to show sex-typed toy
• Sex-typed toy play increases through the
preschool years
• Children begin to avoid peers who violate
gender roles
• Gender segregation develops by ages 2 to
3 years
– Tendency to associate with same-sex
• Typically lasts until around the onset of puberty
Biological Influences on Gender Typing
(Hormonal Influences)
• Experimental animal studies indicate that
exposure to androgens (male sex hormones):
– Increases active play in male and female mammals
– Promotes male-typical sexual behavior and
aggression and suppresses maternal caregiving
behavior in a wide variety of species
• Cannot do experimental research for
ethical reasons
– Correlational research
• In boys, naturally occurring variations in
androgen levels are positively correlated
– Amount of rough-and-tumble play
– Levels of physical aggression
• Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH)
– Disorder in which child is exposed to high
levels of androgens from the prenatal period
– Compared to girls without CAH, girls with
CAH show
• Higher activity levels
• Greater interest in “male-typical” toys, activities,
and occupations
• Better spatial/mathematical abilities
Environmental Influences on Gender Typing
• Social Learning Theory
– Gender typing results from
• Observational learning
– By watching male and female “models”, children learn
“appropriate” appearance, activities/occupations, and
behavior for each sex
• Rewards and punishments associated with gendertyped behavior
– Rewards for conforming to appropriate gender role and
lack of rewards and/or punishment for failure to conform
Parental Behavior
• On average, data suggest that differences in
parental treatment of boys and girls are not
• Does not mean that parental behavior is
unimportant because:
– Younger children receive more direct “training” from
parents about gender roles than do older children
– Parents vary in the extent to which they practice
differential treatment
Evidence for Differential Treatment
• Some data indicate that parents
– Provide gender-stereotyped toys (e.g.,
vehicles, dolls)
– Are more responsive when children engage in
“gender-appropriate” play
• But data are not always consistent across
– Parents also provide gender-neutral toys for
• Gender-stereotyped toys may encourage
different behaviors, characteristics, or abilities in
males and females
– Parents give toys that encourage action and
competition to boys (e.g., toy weapons, toy vehicles,
construction toys and tools, sports equipment)
– Parents give toys that encourage nurturance,
cooperation, and physical attractiveness to girls (e.g.,
dolls/stuffed animals, toy dishes, jewelry, jump ropes)
• Other evidence indicates that parents
encourage different behaviors in boys and
– More likely to encourage independence in boys
• Respond more positively when boys demand attention, are
highly active, or try to take toys from others
• Also more likely to
– Refuse or ignore a son’s request for help
– Challenge boys in teaching situations (e.g., offer
scientific explanations, ask high-level questions)
– More likely to encourage closeness and
dependence in girls
• More likely to:
– Direct play activities
– Provide help
– Engage in conversations
– Talk about emotions
• Differential treatment of boys and girls
may be relatively subtle
– Data indicate gender differences in parentchild communication
• Parents more likely to offer scientific explanations
to sons than to daughters (at a museum)
– Ex: “When you turn that fast, it makes more electricity”
versus “Turn that handle”
Pasterski et al. (2005)
• Comparison of toy choices in girls and
boys with CAH and their siblings (without
– Girls with CAH played with “boys’ toys” more
and “girls’ toys” less than their unaffected
– No differences between boys with CAH and
their unaffected brothers
• Parental Behavior
– Parents gave more negative responses to
their unaffected sons than to their unaffected
daughters for play with “girls’ toys”
– Parents gave more positive responses to
daughters with CAH than to unaffected
daughters for play with “girls’ toys”
• Parental Behavior and Children’s Toy
– For unaffected children, parents’ positive and
negative responses to children’s toy choices
were related to children’s play behavior
• Positive responses to children’s play with certain
toys related to more play with those toys (and vice
versa for negative responses)
– For children with CAH, parental behavior was
not related to children’s toy choices
Peer Behavior
• By age 3, children reinforce each other for
“gender-appropriate” play (e.g., by
praising, imitating, or joining in)
• Criticize children who engage in “crossgender” activities
– Boys are especially critical of other boys
• Male and female peer groups may
promote different styles of interaction
– Boys more often rely on commands,
threats, and physical force
– Girls use polite requests, persuasion—
works with girls but not with boys
• Cognitive theories emphasize children’s
active role in the process of gender typing
Cognitive Developmental Theory (Kohlberg)
• Three Stages:
– Basic Gender Identity:
• Recognition that one is a boy or a girl
– Emerges between 2.5 and 3 years
– Gender Stability
• Understanding that gender is stable over time
– Emerges between 3 and 5 years
– Gender Constancy/Consistency
• Understanding that gender is constant/consistent
across situations regardless of appearance or
– Emerges between 5 and 7 years
• Kohlberg: Gender constancy leads to
adoption of gender roles
– Why is this incorrect?
Gender Schema Theory:
• Children construct gender schemas
– Organized mental representations
incorporating information about gender
• Include children’s own experiences and
information conveyed by others, including gender
• Schemas are dynamic—change as children
acquire additional information
• Once children achieve basic gender
identity, they are motivated to conform to
gender roles
• Motivated to prefer, pay attention to, and
remember more about others of their own sex
• Children use gender schemas to process
information and guide their behavior
Gender Schema Theory: Evidence
Martin et al. (1995)
Study 3:
– Children used gender labels given to toys to
guide their behavior
• Ex: If a toy was labeled as a “boy” toy, girls
reported that they were less interested in it and that
other girls would also be less interested in it than if
the toy was labeled as a “girl” toy (and vice versa for
– True even if the toy was very attractive
• Children also show biases in their memory
for information about gender
– More likely to accurately remember
information that is consistent with gender
– More likely to forget or distort information that
is inconsistent with gender stereotypes