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Male or female? Influence of social context on the male-bias in children's and adults' gender attribution

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Stolarova, M., Brielmann, A., Gaetano, J., & Durand, J. (2017). Male or female? Influence of social context on the male-bias in children's and adults' gender attribution. Poster presented at Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD 2017), Austin, TX, USA.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-6DA1-9
It has been consistently shown that gender attributions are biased towards male. Participants reading or hearing descriptions of a fictional character will make more male than female attributions, in the absence of cues for either gender. This ’people = male’ bias has been recently confirmed for adults viewing a range of stimulus sets, including drawings of full human figures, and silhouetted hand shapes. Evidence suggests that children are, like adults, able to distinguish gender, albeit with less accuracy due to relative inexperience. Despite this, the development of the male-bias has not been investigated before. Thus, the aims of the current study were to (1) explore whether children exhibit a male-bias in visual categorization similarly to adults, and if so (2) investigate the degree to which male-bias in adults or children depends on social context. Stimuli were simple drawings depicting an adult engaged in everyday situations. Social context was manipulated across stimulus blocks, by depicting the adult (i) alone (’adult alone’ condition), (ii) near a child but not interacting with the child (’social passive’), and (iii) actively helping the child (’social helping’). Child and adult participants were asked to attribute the gender of the adult in each picture as ”male”, ”female”, or ”I don’t know”. Overall, children and adults exhibited a male bias consistently across trials, particularly when viewing ’adult alone’ pictures. There was no difference between conditions for ”I don’t know” responses, which were uncommon among adult or child participants, suggesting that male bias does not arise because of participants’ uncertainty. Moreover, the addition of social context information (’social passive’ or ’social helping’ conditions) diminishes male bias in children and adults, without negating it absolutely. In conclusion, our data suggests that male bias develops at an early age and decreases with age. Stereotype-consistent contextual cues decrease male-bias generally, which has interesting implications for the development of early childhood curricula, as discussed.