Gender stereotype knowledge and social causal attributions in young children

Summer 2018

Verity Pinter : Psychology

Donor: Pergo Fund
Mentor: Alison Gopnik

Intuitive theories that young children have about others’ behavior develop through exposure to patterns of covariation – the degree to which two variables change together across time and situations – as a child develops, incorporating new empirical evidence with prior knowledge. Over time and cultural exposure, children's causal theories about other people's behavior becomes biased toward culturally valued or relevant interpretations, resulting in culture-specific assumptions about patterns of behavior.
Children’s understanding of and reliance on gender stereotypes influences their own sense of identity and social development. According to ever-present conventional gender stereotypes in Western societies, boys are generally seen to be more risk-taking and engage in more reckless behavior than girls. Very little research has investigated the influence of these socially conditioned stereotypes on the causal attributions that children make about their peers. For my senior honor’s thesis, I want to explore the relation between the rigidity of children’s gender stereotype knowledge at different ages and the attributions they make when presented with examples of behaviors that either support or contrast stereotypical gendered behaviors.

To the Pergo Fund, This summer I was able to design and carry out my own research project in anticipation of my thesis thanks the gracious generosity of your fund. I wanted to conduct experimental Psychology research with young children and was particularly interested in their conceptions of gender stereotypes. I have worked in a Developmental Psychology lab for my whole time as an undergraduate, but this project was especially exciting because it allowed me to have my first opportunity working directly with children. Having completed the SURF fellowship I feel empowered by the various conversations I had with advisors and undergraduates alike; while I still plan to go to graduate school and work with children in my career, I am now exploring the many different avenues through which I can pursue this passion. My research experience this summer affirmed my interests in working with young children, and gave me the confidence to take full ownership over my academic journey. Thank you so much!