Do children hold different beliefs about adults than they do about other children?

    • Topic: Social Interactions

    • Location: Discovery Center

    While research shows that children as young as three make assumptions about the people around them, and have some awareness of gender stereotypes, it isn’t clear whether they hold the same expectations for children that they do for adults. Our lab is interested in exploring the gender stereotypes that children hold for adults, and whether that is different from the stereotypes they hold for other children.

    In this study, children (ages 3-12 years) will play a game on a tablet in which they are asked to match descriptions to images of different people. Researchers will describe a personality or behavioral characteristic while showing children photos of four people (either children or adults), and will ask children to choose the person they think fits the description best (e.g. “This person likes to have things arranged in a clean, neat fashion. Which one will arrange things in a clean, neat way?”).

    We predict that children will be more likely to apply gender stereotypes to adults than to children, because they may hold the belief that adults are supposed to act in particular ways, whereas children have more room to play and pretend. This study will inform us about children’s expectations for the people around them, and can help us better understand how individuals may come to believe that certain behaviors or opportunities (e.g. certain gender-stereotyped professions) are not available to them.

    This research is conducted in Living Laboratory at the Museum of Science, Boston by the Cognition Across Development Lab at UMass Amherst.

        » Cognition Across Development Lab at UMass Amherst

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Playing Pretend

    Throughout the Discovery Center, there are a number of opportunities to play pretend and imagine yourself in a new role. Children may be paleontologists while investigating fossils, sea captains or mermaids on the boat, or even a forest animal such as a chipmunk or beaver. Engage with your child in the pretend scenario they have imagined, and ask them to describe themselves while they are in that role.

    What kinds of descriptors does your child provide about the role they are acting in? For example, if your child is being a detective, are they silly? Smart? Brave? Kind? As your child moves between play scenarios, are there some characteristics that they believe change from one type of role to another? Are there some that stay the same?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Switching Roles

    Many children enjoy “playing house” or imagining themselves taking on the roles they often see adults in their life engaging in (e.g. cooking dinner, going to work, taking care of a pet). Next time your child is engaging in this pretend play, join them, and encourage them to give you a role in the story they have created. Does your child provide you a role that is similar, or different to your own role in everyday life?

    Ask your child to describe your role to you (e.g. Are you neat? In charge? A rulebreaker?). What characteristics or traits do they describe? As you play in your role, try acting out behaviors that are different from what your child described (e.g. if you are described as being neat, pretend to be disorganized). Does your child reject the “violation” of your character’s perceived traits, or are they willing to accept changes to your role’s description?

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