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Stereotypical and Prosocial Behaviors

Kuhn, Churnin Nash, & Brucken (1978) examined two and three year olds’ beliefs about
males and females. They found that children as young as two years show knowledge of sex role
stereotypes, and that those stereotypes correlated with subjects’ who had an accurate
comprehension of their own sex. However participants who indicated an identity with the
opposite sex did not show stereotyping. No differences were found in stereotyping based on age
or sex, and stereotypes by boys and girls were only partially overlapping. Each sex tended to
attribute positive characteristics to their own sex and negative characteristics to the opposite sex.
I thought that this study was very interesting, and a very good start to looking at what age
children begin picking up on sex roles. There were of course, several questions that this study
opened up that should be answered. It would be interesting to see if/how their findings have
changed over time. Stereotypes, such as the mother who stays at home and acts as the primary
caregiver, are changing, and it would be interesting to see if/how young children’s perceptions
are changing as well. It would also be interesting to see how this study would compare across
cultures. All cultures are different, some patriarchal, some matriarchal. Even within the United
States, it would be interesting to see if different regions have young children with different
results.
In this study, the researchers used different dolls relating to the race of the participant.
What if they had multiple dolls of different races? Would their results have changed? This
would go more into stereotyping of races. Further questions are if these results really indicate
how the children themselves play? I know I forced my brothers to play with me and my dolls,
and I likewise played with their action figures. However, if asked I imagine I would have similar
results on this task. So we may stereotype from an early age, but how much of those stereotypes
influence our actions at such a young age? And do those stereotypes influence us throughout
life?
I was also confused about the measures of the participant’s sex role identity and sex role
preference. Is this a common, valid measure? The children could easily base their answers for
these two questions, “Who are you more like? Lisa or Michael?” and “Who do you want to be
like – Lisa or Michael?” on the last question they were asked. These questions are asked at the
end of session 4, after the children have been asked questions about traits of the dolls. So, for
example, if a little girl participant had associated a positive trait with the male doll Michael just
before these questions, then she may answer that she is more like Michael, because she wants
that trait to describe her as well. Also, it would be interesting if the children were free to choose
one or both of the dolls on the questions. It may have influenced their results. Some of the
results seem conflicting. The children who identified themselves with the opposite sex
especially would be an interesting subgroup to look at, to see if/how they compare with the other
children, and to see what, if any, meaning that identification has.
The second article, by Eisenberg, Lennon & Ross (1983) was on prosocial development,
and also very interesting. I liked how they outlined the different levels of prosocial reasoning,
and at what ages they tend to arise. It would also be easy to do observational research on these
levels, to see how children interact in their daily lives.
Also, as noted in the article, it is believed that when we are younger, we tend to do things
because we are told they are the right things to do, and as we get older we can distinguish more
right from wrong and base our actions on morals. However, how many people base their actions,
not on what is morally considered right and wrong, but out of fear of getting into trouble?
Another important point, when talking about prosocial behavior, I feel, is the role of other
people. Individuals are more inclined to act in accordance with those around them. That is why
friendships are important, and parents should encourage their children to get involved in positive
activities. So even though the children were isolated in this study and asked the questions
individually, it may not reflect how they really do act in different situations. This is another
reason why some observational research would fit nicely into this area.