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Socialising Gender: The Role of Parents, Peers, and the Media in Children's Gender-Typed Preferences and Stereotypes

Spinner, Lauren (2017) Socialising Gender: The Role of Parents, Peers, and the Media in Children's Gender-Typed Preferences and Stereotypes. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:66678)

Language: English

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Within this thesis the environmental factors influencing children's gender-related cognitions are examined. Using multiple methods, the roles of parents, peers, and the media were investigated in relation to children's gender related attitudes and behaviour. The research draws on social learning theory (SLT: Bandura, 1986; Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961; Mischel 1966), social cognitive theory (SCT: Bussey & Bandura, 1999), social role theory (Eagly, 1987) and cognitive developmental theories of gender development (CDT: Bem, 1981, 1983; Kohlberg, 1966; Martin & Halverson, 1981) to explore how socialising agents in the environment, including children's cognitive selves, contribute to the development of gender-related knowledge and stereotypes. As social cognitive and cognitive developmental theories of gender have evolved they have become more integrative, acknowledging that both cognitive and environmental (as well as biological) factors are important in gender development (Martin, Halverson, & Szkrybalo, 2002). This thesis therefore draws on both approaches to comprehensively examine the role of socialising agents and cognitive processes on children's gender-related cognitions.

Five studies were conducted using varied designs. Studies 1 (Chapter 6) and 2 (Chapter 7) focused on the role of parents in the socialisation of children's gender-related beliefs. Study 1 examined children's and parents' toy preferences and gender stereotypes in relation to toy colour and toy function. Results revealed that both girls and boys preferred toys stereotypic for their own gender in terms of both function and colour, to toys stereotypically associated with the other gender. Parents did not prefer one type of toy over another, but children predicted that their parents would possess the same toy preferences as themselves. Additionally, parents possessed more flexible gender stereotypes than children, and children's gender flexibility scores were negatively related to their gender constancy scores. Parents' reports of children's everyday play on the pre-school activities inventory (PSAI) revealed that boys engage in more masculine-typed play than girls, and boys' PSAI scores were negatively related to preference for feminine-function toys included as stimuli.

Study 2 extended Study 1 by examining parents' and children's explicit and implicit gender stereotypes. As self-report questionnaires can be affected by social desirability, Study 2 employed eye-tracking techniques to examine whether parents and children displayed looking preferences towards masculine- and feminine-typed objects stereotypically associated with the gender of the character in an audio sentence. Findings supported predictions that parents and children would display similar implicit gender biases, but different explicit gender biases. Specifically, both parents and children displayed looking preferences towards the masculine-typed object when the character in the scene was a boy, and preferences toward the feminine-typed object when the character was a girl. This effect was stronger and more sustained in parents than children. However, in response to explicit measures, parents appeared not to endorse the gender stereotypes related to toys, instead appearing egalitarian as they did in Study 1, whilst children's responses were gender-stereotypic.

Studies 3, 4, and 5, focused on the role of peers and the media in gender socialisation. Studies 3 (Chapter 8) and 4 (Chapter 9) examined the prevalence of gender stereotypic information in young children's magazines; a popular media format which has received little research attention. In Study 3, the front covers of children's magazines were analysed to examine the prevalence of gender stereotypic messages. A content analysis was performed on 106 magazine front covers across nine different magazines. Gender stereotypic information was coded in relation to colour schemes, number of male and female characters and character behaviour, and themes advertised. Results revealed that magazines aimed solely at boys or girls were presented in gender-stereotypic colours, girls' magazines contained more female than male characters whilst boys' magazines contained more male than female characters, female characters were more likely to demonstrate passive than active behaviour, and girls' magazine front covers contained no speaking characters. Additionally, the theme of appearance was far more prevalent than the theme of risk on the front of girls' magazines.

Study 4 extended Study 3 by analysing the prevalence of gender stereotypic messages throughout entire magazines issues. A content analysis was undertaken on 42 new issues of the same nine magazines previously examined. Within each magazine, the extensive coding framework analysed the colour scheme, the number of male and female characters, character behaviour, and themes. In addition, how often children were instructed to ask for an adult's help with an activity, and the number of activities identified as educational was coded to examine if this differed according target audience. Key findings were that male characters were more active than female characters, males were more aggressive than females, significantly more activities were explicitly identified as educational in the boys' and neutral magazines compared to the girls' magazines, and instructions to ask for an adult's help were present significantly more in the girls' magazines than in both the boys' and neutral magazines. The themes of fashion and home also appeared significantly more in the girls' than the boys' magazines. Therefore, supporting Study 3, young children's magazines are edited differently in terms of both their style and content depending on whether they are aimed at girls, boys, or both boys and girls, reinforcing gender stereotypes.

Following findings from Studies 3 and 4 that young children's magazines readily depict gender stereotyped content; Study 5 (Chapter 10) aimed to examine the impact of such media on the endorsement of gender-typed attitudes and behaviours. Specifically, the effect of stereotypic and counterstereotypic peer models presented in children's magazines on children's gender flexibility was investigated. Children were exposed to either stereotypic or counterstereotypic models via reader's pages of children's magazines and completed a number of measures of gender flexibility. Results revealed significantly greater gender flexibility around toy play and playmate choice among children in the counterstereotypic condition compared to the stereotypic condition. However, there was no difference in children's own toy preferences between the stereotypic and counterstereotypic condition, with children preferring more gender-typed toys overall. Therefore, the (counter)stereotypic behaviour of peer models presented in children's magazines affects gender flexibility in some domains but not others.

The studies presented within this thesis show strong support for the role that social factors play in children's gender development. Studies 1 and 2 revealed that despite parents' explicit egalitarian views of gender-typed play, children did not predict that their parents would endorse cross-gender-typed play and eye-tracking revealed that parents' implicit gender biases in relation to toys were in fact stronger than their children's. This suggests that parents may be socialising children's gender stereotypes via verbal and/or non-verbal behaviour stemming from their unconscious biases. Studies 1 and 2 also support cognitive developmental theories of gender development in relation to gender schemas (Bem, 1981, 1983) and children's gender-related knowledge (Kohlberg, 1966), and highlight the role of toy colour and function in reinforcing gender stereotypes.

Studies 3 and 4 provide further evidence for the socialisation of children's gender stereotypes via the media. Young children's magazines were found to portray highly gender-typed messages via colour, character behaviour, and themes, which differed according to the target audience, suggesting that children's exposure to these magazines may contribute to the development of gender stereotypes. The findings from these studies support social cognitive theory and social role theory of gender development, and speak to media cultivation theory.

Study 5 uncovered how the behaviour of peer models in children's magazines can differentially affect children's gender flexibility in different domains, again speaking to socialisation theories of gender development, and the importance of exposure to counterstereotypic gender models in increasing gender flexible attitudes. The findings from Study 5 also indicate that children's magazines could be used as a successful basis for future intervention research.

In conclusion, the studies in the present thesis provide strong support for the role of socialising agents in children's gender development. Toys, parents, peer models, and the media have all been shown to portray gender-typed information, and importantly, counterstereotypic models have been shown to encourage greater gender flexibility in children's attitudes. Applying an established eye-tracking paradigm to investigate children and parents' unconscious gender biases for the first time greatly contributes to the literature on implicit gender stereotypes, and the finding that educational activities are promoted significantly more in magazines aimed at boys than girls shows for the first time the impact that this media format may be having on children's aspirations and understanding of gender norms from such a young age. Further implications for theory, marketers, parents, educators, and future research are discussed in Chapter 11.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Cameron, Lindsey
Thesis advisor: Abrams, Dominic
Uncontrolled keywords: Psychology Developmental Gender Children Socialisation Stereotypes
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 10 Apr 2018 10:10 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:54 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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