• Examining gender salience in preschoolers through a category formation task

      Planke, Julie A. (2019-08)
      Ample evidence exists suggesting children as young as 2-years-old can successfully classify colors, various objects, and people into stereotypical male and female categories. However, it is unknown if gender categories are perceived as important and meaningful. While children have sufficient gender knowledge to categorize by gender, do they in fact perceive their environments through a gendered lens? In order to investigate gender salience, a category formation, or free-sorting, methodology was developed using highly gender-typed toys. The central focus of this thesis was to examine the usefulness of the free-sorting task as a measure of conceptual categorization abilities and gender salience (i.e., how gender schematic a child is). Additionally, measures of gender constancy and gender-related beliefs were expected to shed light on children’s sorting behaviors. In Study 1, 44 adult participants (6 males, 38 females) completed the task as well as gender-related dispositional measures to assure the validity of the toy stimuli. Preschool-aged participants were then recruited from local preschool centers and included 12 children (7 males, 5 females) ranging in age from 3 to 5 years (M = 57.17 months, SD = 5.47 months). Results of the free-sorting task revealed preschool-age children are able to utilize conceptual categorizes while sorting. Moreover, through spontaneously sorting the toys by gender, the majority (2/3) of children demonstrated that gender was indeed salient while viewing the stimulus set. These findings begin to elucidate the individual variability in the perceived importance and social awareness of gender as a social category in early childhood development.