East Georgia State College sociologists David Altamirano, Susan E. Bragg, David L. Strickland, and Harry L. Vogel presented their research paper, “Gender-Stereotyped Perceptions of Newborns: The Eye of the College Student Beholder,” at the 2017 Georgia Sociological Association annual meetings in Cordele, Ga. on November 4.
Accordingly to Dr. Lee Cheek, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at EGSC, “Our sociology professors have engaged in important work of enduring influence. This study is part of a pattern of exemplary scholarship that benefits our region and our students.”
Inspired by the classic “Eye of the Beholder” research conducted by Rubin and associates in 1974 on sex-role typing of infants by primiparous parents, the EGSC sociologists examined sex-role typing among college freshmen. The Eye of the Beholder study and subsequent research has shown that gender stereotyping of infants by adults is influenced by the adult's knowledge of the infant's sex and by the subject's own sex. The study conducted by EGSC sociologists attempted to provide insight into the tendency for gender stereotyping or lack thereof among adults more than four decades since the original Eye of the Beholder study.
The current study is important because it addresses the question of whether the tendency for gender stereotyping has persisted even though gender equity has increased through time. It also tested the presumption that adults do not believe that neonates behave in sex-typed ways is correct. Because of their influence on the socialization of children and sanctions against individuals who do not acquiesce, sex-role stereotyping tendencies persistent in society have implications for social justice.
In this study, respondents rated an infant using the same 18-point adjective pair scale employed by Rubin and associates under three conditions: presumption of male, female, or no presumption. The bipolar adjective scale variables were: firm-soft; large featured-fine featured; big-little; relaxed-nervous; cuddly-not cuddly; easy going-fussy; cheerful-cranky; good eater-poor eater; excitable-calm; active-inactive; beautiful-plain; sociable-unsociable; well-coordinated-awkward; noisy-quiet; alert-inattentive; strong-weak; friendly-unfriendly; hardy-delicate. Unlike the original study, the EGSC researchers found a statistically significant difference for only four of the 18 adjective pair variables: firm-soft, cuddly-not cuddly, cheerful-cranky, and friendly-unfriendly. The EGSC study echoes the recent efforts of researchers, including Thielmann and associates in 2015, to explain the inconsistent findings of research on gender-correlated perceptions that were conducted since the original Eye of the Beholder study.
Social scientists have long understood that "Gender-associated beliefs influence how people respond to us from the cradle to the grave. From birth, our parents shape our world based, in part, on their beliefs about what boys and girls are and should be like" (Kite, 2009, p. 758). Regardless of whether stereotyped perceptions of children emerge from veridical observations of physical differences or from imagined gender expectations rooted in culture, the stereotypes have implications for the early socialization, the differential treatment of males and females, and caregiver expectations of gender-congruent behavior in children.