Early education books could play an integral role in strengthening children’s perceptions of gender

A new study from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that children’s books can support gender stereotypes. Such information in early childhood books can play an important role in strengthening gender perceptions of young children. The results are available in the December issue of the journal Psychological Science.

“Some of the stereotypes that are explored in the social psychology literature are present in these books, with girls being good at reading and boys being good at math,” said Molly Lewis, a special professor in the social sciences and psychology departments at the College of Humanities. and social sciences Dietrich and lead author of the study.

Lewis discovers that sexual language books are centered around the protagonist of the story. Words related to women, affection, words related to school and communication verbs such as “explained” and “heard”. Meanwhile, words related to men focused more on professions, transport and tools.

“The audience of these books [are] different, “Lewis said.” Girls are more likely to stereotypically read books about girls, and boys are more likely to stereotypically read books about boys. “

Girls are more likely to read books that include female characters than boys. Because of these preferences, children are more likely to learn about their own gender biases than other sexes.

The researchers analyzed 247 books written for children 5 years of age and younger by the Wisconsin Children’s Book Corps. Books with female characters had more sexual language than books with main characters. Researchers attribute this finding to the “male”, who has historically been considered the default gender. Words and phrases coded by women are more out of the norm and more noticeable.

Researchers also compared their findings with adult fiction books and found that children’s books showed more gender stereotypes than fictional books read by adults. In particular, researchers are examining how often women are associated with the good, family, language and the arts, while men are associated with the bad, career and math. Compared to the adult corps, which was quite gender-neutral when it came to associations between gender, language, arts and mathematics, children’s books are much more likely to link women to language and the arts and men to mathematics.

Our data is only part of the story -; so to speak. They are based on the words in children’s books and say nothing about other characteristics that matter: the story, the emotions they evoke, the ways in which books expand children’s knowledge of the world. We do not want to spoil anyone’s memories of “Curious George” or “Amelia Bedelia”. Knowing that stereotypes creep into many books and that children develop beliefs about gender at an early age, we probably want to consider books with that in mind. “

Mark Seidenberg, Professor of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison and author of the study

The study does not directly assess how children perceive gender messages in these books or examines how books affect how readers perceive gender. The study also does not assess other sources of gender stereotypes to which children are exposed.

“There is often a kind of cycle of studying gender stereotypes, with children learning stereotypes at an early age and then perpetuating them as they get older,” Lewis said. “These books can be a means of conveying information about gender. We may need to pay a little attention to what these messages might be and whether they are messages you even want to bring to children.

Lewis and Seidenberg joined Matt Cooper Borkenhagen, Ellen Converse and Gary Lupian of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in a study entitled “What Books Could Young Children Learn About Gender?”


Carnegie Mellon University

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