A new study from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison has found that children’s books can perpetuate gender stereotypes. Such information in preschool education books could play a critical role in consolidating gender perceptions in young children. The results are available in the December issue of the journal Psychological Science.
“Some of the stereotypes that have been explored in a social psychology literature are present in these books, such as girls being good at reading and boys being good at math,” said Molly Lewis, professor of social science and decision-making. and psychology at the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and lead author of the study.
Lewis discovered that books with gendered language centered around the protagonist of the story. Words associated with women focus on affection, school-related words and communicative verbs, such as “explained” and “listened to.” Meanwhile, words associated with men focused more on professions, transportation, and tools.
“The audience of these books [are] different, ”Lewis said. “Girls read stereotypical girls ‘books more often, and boys read stereotypical boys’ books more often. “
Girls are more likely to have books read that include female protagonists than boys. Because of these preferences, children are more likely to experience gender bias against their own sex than those of other sexes.
Researchers analyzed 247 books written for children ages 5 and under from the Wisconsin Children’s Book Corpus. Books with female protagonists had a more gendered language than books with male protagonists. The researchers attribute this result to the fact that “man” has historically been considered the default sex. The words and phrases coded by women are more outside the norm and more noticeable.
The researchers also compared their results to adult fiction books and found that children’s books had more gender stereotypes than fiction books read by adults. In particular, the researchers looked at how often women were associated with good, family, language, and the arts, while men were associated with evil, careers, and math. Compared to the adult corpus, which was fairly neutral in terms of associations between gender, language, arts and mathematics, children’s books were much more likely to associate women with language and the arts and men with mathematics.
Our data is only part of the story -; therefore, to say. They are based on the words from children’s books and say nothing about other important characteristics: the story, the emotions they evoke, the way the books expand knowledge of the children’s world. We don’t want to spoil the memories of “Curious George” or “Amelia Bedelia”. Knowing that stereotypes creep into many books and that children develop gender beliefs at a young age, we probably want to view books with that in mind. “
Mark Seidenberg, professor of psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison and contributing author of the study
The study did not directly assess how children perceive the gender messages in these books or how the books influence how readers perceive gender. The study also did not assess other sources of gender stereotypes to which children are exposed.
“There is often a kind of learning cycle of gender stereotypes, with children learning stereotypes at a young age and then perpetuating them as they get older,” Lewis said. “These books can be a vehicle for communicating information about gender. We may need to be careful what these messages can be and if they are messages that you even want to pass on to children.”
Lewis and Seidenberg were joined by Matt Cooper Borkenhagen, Ellen Converse and Gary Lupyan of the University of Wisconsin, Madison in the study titled “What Books Could Teach Young Children About Gender?”