Mentor: Professor Kim Cassidy
During the preschool years, children become increasingly aware of their and others' gender. By the time most children are three years old, they seem to have a solid understanding of gender identity, as demonstrated by the ability to accurately label their own and others’ genders (Slentz and Krogh, 159). Information about gender guides children’s own behavior, as well as their ideas about appropriate behavior for other children. Several researchers have found that children often reinterpret social information in light of what they believe to be true about gender, even displaying memory distortions when situations are inconsistent with their conceptions (Liben and Signorella, 1993; Susskind, 2003).
In my research, I will examine preschoolers’ beliefs concerning the relationship between gender and aggression. Past research has focused on types of aggression that young children exhibit. Researchers have discovered that girls exhibit relational aggression (the intent to harm others by removing or threatening to damage a relationship or feelings of social acceptance and inclusion in social groups [Crick et al]) and boys exhibit physical aggression (behaviors that involve intent to harm others through physical acts such as pushing and pinching as well as verbal acts such as threatening physical force [Crick et al]).
I will be examining whether preschoolers’ gender stereotypes about aggression are consistent with their own aggressive behavior. To investigate this, I will read preschoolers several stories that may or may not be consistent with their gender stereotypes of aggression. I will then ask the children to repeat the stories back to me and check for any errors in recall concerning gender and aggression. In addition, I will be observing the children and recording their aggressive behavior. By recording the type of aggression they exhibit and comparing their behavior to their gender stereotypes demonstrated during the story recall, I will be able to see if preschoolers’ gender stereotypes of aggression correlate with their own aggressive behavior.