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The influence of sex-typed interests on children's social judgments Wood, Carolyn Helen


Findings from research on the influence of sex stereotypes on impression formation have suggested that young children use stereotyped information differently than older children and adults. When gender labeling and sex-typed individuating information are both available (e.g., a boy who likes playing with dolls), older children and adults use both types of information to make inferences about others while younger children use only the gender labels and ignore the individuating information. When making inferences about others, why do younger children rely on information about the sex of the other child when more relevant information about the sex-typing of the other child's stated interests are available? Is it because they do not see interests as predictive or do gender labels for some reason overpower other information? To answer these questions, this study was designed to investigate whether young children are able to use sex-typed interest information, in the absence of gender labels, to make inferences about other children. Fifty-six girls and boys (M age = 4.5 yrs.) were given short statements about six gender unspecified children's sex-typed toy interests (three masculine, three feminine). These statements varied in salience information (single interest without pictures, multiple interests without pictures and multiple interests with pictures). Children made ratings of how much they thought the other child would like six new toys (two feminine, two masculine, and two the same as in the original statement). A second testing session was designed to assess whether, when given both gender and interest information, children would make toy inferences based on gender as has been found in previous studies. Children were read four short stories about other children's (two girls, two boys) counter-stereotypic interests, and were again asked to predict the child's other toy interests. Also, children's knowledge of sex stereotypes and toy preferences were assessed. Results showed that, as in the previous studies, when gender labeling information was available, children relied on gender labels more than on individual sex-typed interests to make toy inferences. More importantly, when only sex-typed interests were available, children were able to use the interest information to make inferences. This effect occurred selectively however. Both girls and boys made clear sex-typed inferences about the interests of another child who was said to have interests consistent with their own sex (e.g., when girls made attributions about a child who was said to like sewing machines) but inferences about children who had interests inconsistent with their own sex (e.g., when girls made attributions about a child who was said to like train engines) were less clear. Salience of toy interests did not influence toy ratings, indicating a fictitious child's interest in one toy was sufficient information for children to make inferences. The implications of these results for findings from previous studies, and for children's in depth understanding of sex stereotypes and the salience of gender schemas at different ages are discussed.

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