the influence of sex-role stereotypes on children's self- and peer-attributions
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Sex Roles, Vol. 9, No. 12, 1983
The Influence of Sex-Role Stereotypes on
Children's Self- and Peer-Attributions 1
Gale E. lnof f 2 National Institute ~f Mental Health
Charles F. Halverson, Jr. University of Georgia, Athens
Karabelle A. L. Pizzigali Youth Work, Incorporated
Children's self- and peer-attributions to sex-role-related personality traits were investigated. For each of 10 traits depicted in videotaped skits, 147 children, aged 5-13 years, rated themselves, rated the social desirability of the trait, and nominated peers who exhibited the trait. Self-ratings on the trait did not fall into sex-role clusters. Not only were the masculine traits independent of the feminine traits but the within-sex-role traits also were relatively independent of each other. Few sex differences were found, although all found were in the direction of the stereotype and were for the feminine traits. Examination for differences between 3 age groups (grades kindergarten, 1, 2; 3, 4, 5; and 6, 7, 8) revealed no significant differences evidenced in a generally consistent pattern across traits representing each sex role. Self-ratings were related to the ratings of social desirability of the traits, especially for the youngest children. When nominating peers, the children tended to nominate same-sex peers, regardless of the trait. It seems that when cued by task or instructions, children can ac- curately report the content of stereotypes and use them "appropriately."
I Alt three authors were affiliated with the Laboratory of Developmental Psychology, National Institute of Mentai Health, during the time of project planning and data collec- tion. Appreciation is extended to Brian McLaughlin for his help in the planning and data collection phases of the study, to Craig Edelbrock and Thomas Achenbach for their advice regarding data analysis, and to Rita Dettmers for her secretarial assistance.
z Correspondence should be sent to Gale E. Inoff, Laboratory of Developmental Psychology, National Institute of Mental Health, Building 15K, Bethesda, Maryland 20205.
0350 0025/83/1200-1205503.00/0 @1983 Plenum Publishing Corporation
1206 lnoff, Halverson, Pizzigati
When sex roles are not made salient, stereotypes do not necessarily organize information processing.
In recent years, numerous researchers have investigated sex-role development, and in many instances the focus has been on sex-role stereotypes. It is well documented, for example, that young children are aware of many sex-role- related prescriptions and stereotypes (Thompson, 1975; Williams, Bennett, & Best, 1975, Edelbrock & Sugawara, 1978). It remains unclear how those pre- scriptions and stereotypes affect children as they develop abstract conceptions about themselves and their environment.
Research on children's sex-role identification has been limited primarily to the study of their knowledge of stereotypes and their preferences regarding stereotyped toys, activities, and occupations. The development of sex-role identification with regard to personality traits has received little attention, although beliefs about one's personality characteristics may be considered more integral to an individual's self-concept than are attitudes about situation-specific activities or objects. This study sought to examine children's beliefs about their own (as well as peers') personality traits, with the view that these beliefs bear a strong relationship to the behaviors children exhibit.
Recent theoretical discussion influenced the conceptualization and design of this study. Major theories and most early studies in this area have focused on the achievement of a masculine identity for boys and a feminine identify for girls (Parsons, 1955; Kagen, 1964; Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974). Such a focus un- doubtedly was influenced by clinical and popular beliefs about normal and healthy development. Recent investigations (Bern, 1975; Spence, Helmreich, & Stapp, 1975) have provided some evidence that the incorporation of both masculine and feminine characteristics (androgyny) might be more adaptive, given the increasing variety of situations in which people now may find them- selves.
This latter approach to sex-role identity grows out of the position put forth by Constantinople (1973), Bem (1974), and others that masculinity and femininity may be conceptualized as two separate and independent dimen- sions, both of which can contribute to an individual's sex-role identification. To date, investigators have studied sex roles in this light mostly with adults and adolescents (e.g., Bem, 1975; Spence et al., 1975; Kinsell-Rainey, 1976). We sought to apply this approach to young children.
Thus, the purposes of this study were (1) to examine the relationship between traditional sex-role stereotypes about personality traits and children's judgments about themselves and their peers, and (2) to investigate the develop- ment of androgynous orientations in children. In this exploratory study, we planned to form two robust composite measures based on our selected per- sonality traits-one composite representing "masculinity" and the other rep- resenting "femininity"-and then to characterize (e.g., by age and sex) the children who could be classified differentially on the masculine and feminine composites taken together.
Sex-Role Stereotypes and Attributions 1207
Children's judgments of themselves (and their peers) on stereotyped personality traD:s were assessed. Parallel to Bem's (1974)conceptualization of androgyny, the main focus of this investigation was self-ascriptions to sex-role- related personality traits. In order to examine developmental aspects of sex- role identification, cross-sectional samples of boys and girls at three age periods were studied.
Seventy-one boys and 76 girls, aged 5 through 13 years, participated in the study. They were predominantly White, upper-middle class, and in atten- dance at a private school in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
Because an appropriate instrument that tapped self-ascriptions to sex- role-related personality traits in children was unavailable, a new instrument was constructed and piloted. The instrument was designed to be sufficiently con- crete for children as young as 5 years of age. Ten videotaped skits were pro- duced-5 with children portraying traits stereotyped as masculine and 5 with children portraying traits stereotyped as feminine. The stereotyped masculine traits were assertiveness, stoicism, boastfulness, messiness, and independence. The stereotyped feminine traits were excitability, nurturance, gentleness, fick- leness, and dependence.
These trai~s were selected because other studies of children and adults had shown them to be highly stereotyped (Thompson, 1975; Williams et at., 1975). Pilot data with 23 5-11-year-olds also supported the findings that these traits were used stereotypically)
To control for potentially confounding factors, eight versions of the videotape were constructed in which order of traits, sex of actor for a trait, and child enacting a trait were varied. For the testing session, there were a total of four experimenters, two males and two females. Each child was tested individually. Fm each child within each grade, testing sessions were counter- balanced for sex of experimenter. The sessions were tape-recorded.
The testing session began with the experimenter telling the child that s/he would see short stories on the television and that the stories were about things that most people do, although some people do them more often than
3 All of the traits, except independence, were judged stereotypically by the pilot sample at p ~ .20. Independence, a masculine trait, was judged to be a feminine trait.
1208 Inoff, Halverson, Pizzigati
others. Prior to showing each skit, the experimenter described the skit, repeti- tively emphasizing the particular trait:
1. Assertiveness. "This is a story about a child who usually goes after what s/he wants. When s/he and a friend are offered some candy, s/he takes the one s/he wants."
2. Stoicism. "This story is about a child who acts very brave. S/he has a sore arm, and, in the story, the arm gets knocked by an opening door. Even though this hurts very much, s/he acts very brave, says that s/he is all right, and acts like the arm doesn't hurt."
3. Boastfulness. "This story is about a child who often wants to be the one who makes all the decisions and gets things done. S/he also boasts about how good s/he is at doing things."
4. Messiness. "This story shows a child who is usualty pretty messy. In the story, s/he is looking for something in one of her/his messy drawers."
5. Independence. "This story is about a child who often does something because s/he has decided that is what s/he would like to do. Sometimes, of course, s/he joins her/his friends in what they are doing, but sometimes s/he picks her/his own things to do and then goes and does them. In the story, s/he's going to do a project-not because s/he has to, but because s/he wants to."
6. Excitability. "This story is about a child who often gets very excited about things. In the story, s/he gets a present, and s/he is so excited about getting it. You can really tell how excited s/he is just by looking and listen- ing to her/him."
7. Nurturance. "This is a story about a child who is trying to make a sad friend feel better. Whenever a friend is sad, s/he is very kind and shows her/ his friend that s/he really cares."
8. Gentleness. "This story shows a child who usually is very gentle. In the story, s/he is very gentle with a kitty cat. S/he is gently petting the kitty and acting very lovingly toward t