Broadly defined, research in the Gender Cognitions and Development Lab focuses on social categorization, stereotyping, and peer interactions, especially as they occur in early childhood through adolescence. We are interested in how children (and sometimes adults) think about and interact with others whom they view as different from themselves. The primary “difference” we explore involves gender. For example, why do boys and girls, from a very early age, prefer same-sex playmates and display the general attitude that their own sex is better than the other? In other words, what causes the “cootie phenomenon”? How do gender stereotypes and reactions to people who violate these stereotypes vary depending on characteristics of the perceiver and target (e.g. sex, age, sexual orientation, personality) and the type of stereotype being violated (e.g., activities, occupations, traits, physical or appearance-related characteristics, leadership behaviors)? Much of this work draws on the social psychological literature investigating Social Identity Theory and Self-Categorization Theory. This literature has revealed that mere assignment to a social category, even one created arbitrarily in the laboratory, leads adults to favor members of their own groups, to exaggerate between-group differences and within-group similarities, and oftentimes to view other groups as more homogeneous than their own. Research in the Gender Cognitions and Development Lab suggests that many of children’s gender-related beliefs and behaviors may result from similar group processes.
Most research in the lab focuses on two major areas:
1. Children’s own-sex favoritism: Understanding the “cootie phenomenon.”
2. The development of gender stereotypes and reaction to gender stereotype violations