Stereotypes are an unavoidable part of everyday life. Stereotypes are defined as widely held generalizations about the traits, behaviors, and roles of a particular set of individuals who have been grouped together on the basis of a perceived commonality (Hansson, L. M., Karnehed, N., Tynelius, P., & Rassmussen, F. 2009). While it is possible for stereotypes to be positive, it is not uncommon that they communicate misleading information about a particular group of people. As a result, the origins and consequences of stereotyping are frequently of interest to researchers.
One population that is particularly vulnerable to the negative aspects of stereotyping is children. A particular domain of stereotypes in which all children must face is gender stereotyping. As a result, gender stereotyping has been an area of interest to researchers. Gender stereotyping becomes an issue when people draw conclusions about men or women on the basis of their gender alone. Research has shown that children may begin developing gender stereotypes as early as three years of age (Banse, Gawronski, Rebetez, Gutt, & Morton, 2010). These gender stereotypes play an important role in how children perceive and behave in the world as they influence areas including but not limited to: educational goals, peer preferences, attributions, memory, self-concept and even potential career choice. It is important to understand what factors promote the development of these stereotypes. The present study specifically seeks to determine if physical salience is one of those factors that facilitate the development of gender stereotypes.
The developmental intergroup theory suggests that by regulating the salience in a particular group in the environment, children’s stereotypes can be developed and increased (Bigler & Liben, 2006). In other words, the more salient the attribute is made through implicit and explicit labeling, the better children will notice differences between groups. As a result, children may be more likely to develop stereotypes. Support for the developmental intergroup theory comes from research that examines children’s stereotypes towards both non-physically salient and physically salient domains.
One such study was conducted by Bigler in 1995 and was composed of 66 elementary school children enrolled in a 4 week summer school program. Subjects were given pretest measures that assessed gender stereotyping and classification skills. Subjects were then assigned to one of three conditions in which teachers were asked to make functional use of (1) female and male groups, (2) color groups, or (3) neither. By the end of the four weeks, children performed posttest measures that assessed gender stereotyping and intergroup attitudes. The results indicated that the children in the gender condition experienced an increase in gender stereotyping while the children in the color condition did not exhibit an increase in stereotypic beliefs toward either group. This implies that children...