Running head: INFANTS PERCEIVED GENDER AND ADOLESCENTS’ RATINGS 1
Effect of Infant’s Perceived Gender on Adolescents’ Ratings of the Infant
Douglas Degelman, Veronika Dvorak, and Julie Ann Homutoff
Vanguard University of Southern California
Douglas Degelman, Department of Psychology, Vanguard University of Southern
California; Veronika Dvorak, Department of Psychology, Vanguard University of Southern
California; Julie Ann Homutoff, Department of Psychology, Vanguard University of Southern
An original research proposal by Julie Ann Homutoff has been edited and adapted by
Douglas Degelman to illustrate basic elements of a research proposal.
Correspondence concerning this proposal should be addressed to Douglas Degelman,
Department of Psychology, Vanguard University of Southern California, Costa Mesa, CA 92626.
INFANT’S PERCEIVED GENDER AND ADOLESCENTS’ RATINGS 2
The role of the perceived gender of an infant and the gender of adolescents on ratings of the
infant will be explored. Thirty-six junior high students (18 boys and 18 girls) will view a photo
of a 3-month-old infant. Students will be told the infant’s name is either “Larry,” “Laurie,” or
they will not be told the infant’s name. Each student will rate the infant on 6 bipolar adjective
scales (firm/soft, big/little, strong/weak, hardy/delicate, well coordinated/awkward, and
beautiful/plain). It is predicted that both the name assigned to the infant and the students’ gender
will affect ratings. Implications of the results for parenting and for future research will be
INFANT’S PERCEIVED GENDER AND ADOLESCENTS’ RATINGS 3
Effect of Infant’s Perceived Gender on Adolescents’ Ratings of the Infant
Many researchers agree that gender role socialization begins at the time of an infant’s birth
(Haugh, Hoffman, & Cowan, 1980; Honig, 1983). Most parents are extremely interested in
learning whether their newborn infant is a boy or a girl, and intentionally or not, this knowledge
elicits in them a set of expectations about sex role appropriate traits (Rubin, Provenzano, &
Luria, 1974). Empirical research suggests that these initial expectations, which form the basis of
gender schemas (Leone & Robertson, 1989), can have a powerful impact on parents’ perceptions
of and behavior toward infants (Fagot, 1978; Lewis, 1972). Gender contributes to the initial
context within which adults respond to an infant and may become an influential agent in the
socializing process and the development of the child’s sense of self (Berndt & Heller, 1986).
Stereotyped expectations may influence gender role socialization and the acquisition of
sex-typed behavior through a self-fulfilling prophecy process (Darley & Fazio, 1980).
Preconceived gender-based expectations may cause the parent to elicit expected behavior from
the infant and to reinforce expected behavior when it occurs; this would confirm the parents’
Several studies (Condry & Condry, 1976; Culp, Cook, & Housley, 1983; Delk, Madden,
Livingston, & Ryan, 1986; Rubin et al., 1974) have explored the effects of infant gender on adult
assignment of sex-typed labels and have demonstrated that adults sex-type infants. These studies
have examined a variety of subject populations and included infants of varying ages. Parents in
one study, for example, were asked to rate and describe their newborns shortly after birth when
the primary source of information about the baby was his or her gender (Rubin et al., 1974).
Although the infants did not differ on any objective measures, girls were rated as smaller, softer,
more fine-featured, and more inattentive than boys. Other studies have revealed that parents
INFANT’S PERCEIVED GENDER AND ADOLESCENTS’ RATINGS 4
treat male and female infants differently. Culp et al. (1983) found that both male and female
parents behave differently toward unfamiliar infants on the basis of perceived sex. This study
suggests that adults are inclined to perceive traits in an infant that are consistent with an infants’
gender label. Also, Fagot (1978) observed that parents of toddlers reacted differently to boys’
and girls’ behavior. Parents responded more positively to girls than boys when the toddlers
played with dolls, and more critically to girls than boys when the toddlers engaged in large motor
As a group, these studies suggest that adult responses coincide with culturally specified sex
stereotypes associated with the gender label assigned to an infant and independent of actual
infant gender differences. These studies have addressed how both perceptions and behaviors
might be affected by expectations associated with the gender label assigned to the infant.
Although many studies have examined sex stereotyping of infants by adults, particularly
parents, very few studies have examined children’s or adolescents’ sex-typing of infants (Haugh
et al., 1980; Vogel, Lake, Evans, & Karraker, 1991). Stern and Karraker (1989) reviewed
available studies of sex-biased perceptions of infants who were labeled either male or female,
and concluded that adults’ perceptions often are not influenced by knowledge of an infant’s sex;
however, young children were found to rate infants in a sex-stereotyped fashion much more
frequently than were adults. None of the studies included in the review examined sex
stereotyping of infants by older children and adolescents. One question motivating this study,
therefore, was how sex-stereotyped perceptions of infants change during the early adolescent
period, particularly junior high (middle school) age.
Although few studies have investigated adolescents’ sex-stereotyped perception of infants,
a number of studies have examined adolescents’ sex stereotyping of older individuals. Many of
INFANT’S PERCEIVED GENDER AND ADOLESCENTS’ RATINGS 5
these studies, using varied methods, have found that sex stereotyping increases with age between
3 and 14 years (Berndt & Heller, 1986; Martin, 1987; Scanzoni & Fox, 1980; Skrypnek &
Snyder, 1982). Some studies have found a curvilinear relationship between age and sex
stereotyping, with younger subjects and adolescents using sex stereotypes less than other
children (Stern & Karraker, 1989). However, most of these studies suggest a consistent increase
in sex stereotyping from preschool through middle childhood, a plateau, and then a decrease
The purpose of this present study is to systematically examine the effects of gender of
adolescents and infants’ perceived gender, and their interaction, on adolescents’ ratings toward
the infant. Several studies suggest that differences in the ratings of a perceived male or
perceived female infant are a function of the actual gender of the observer (Condry & Condry,
1976; Vogel et al., 1991). Girls tend to rate infants as more beautiful than boys do, when there is
a choice between the adjectives of plain and beautiful. Also, older women, particularly mothers,
tend to give more positive ratings than other subjects (Bell & Carver, 1980).
Participants for the present study will be selected to represent the adolescent age period
(12-14 -year-olds). Consistent with the findings of Haugh et al. (1980) and the studies reviewed
here, it is expected that the act of labeling infants with gender-typed first names will elicit
responses of learned attributes associated with gender-category labels. Any stimulus that elicits
the gender category, such as a “genderized” first name or designation as “male” or “female” will
elicit a potentially broad set of associated attributes. The prediction is that if adolescents are
given minimal information about an infant, adolescents will use sex-related cues (i.e., name of
infant) to make evaluations about the infant. The second hypothesis is that males and females
will rate the perceived infant differently regardless of the name assigned to the infant. The last
INFANT’S PERCEIVED GENDER AND ADOLESCENTS’ RATINGS 6
hypothesis is that the effect of the infants’ perceived gender will depend on the adolescents’
gender (an interaction effect).
Thirty-six junior high students (12-14-year-olds) attending a public school in West Covina,
California will be used as participants. The students are a part of a leadership class. The school
is located in a predominantly middle-lower class neighborhood. Informed consent will be
obtained from parents or legal guardians, and an incentive will be used so that students will be
motivated to get their informed consent papers signed.
This study can be considered a 2 (gender of the adolescent) X 3 (infant name condition)
between-subjects factorial design, because there are two independent variables. The gender of
the adolescents has two levels, male or female, and the infant name condition has three levels:
Laurie, Larry, and the control condition. The dependent measures are the adolescents’ ratings of
the infant on each of the six bipolar adjectives.
A color image (see Figure 1) of a 3-month-old infant will be used for all the conditions.
The infant’s image will be photocopied on 21.6 X 27.9 cm paper. Several sex-typed adjectives
(see Figure 1) will appear on the paper with the infant’s pictures. Six bipolar adjective pairs
(firm/soft, big/little, strong/weak, hardy/delicate, well coordinated/awkward, and beautiful/plain)
were chosen for this study based on previous studies that used similar adjectives (Haugh et al.,
1980; Rubin et al., 1974; Stern & Karraker, 1989; Vogel et al., 1991). All materials are exactly
the same except for in each condition, the first name of the infant changes. In one condition the
INFANT’S PERCEIVED GENDER AND ADOLESCENTS’ RATINGS 7
infant will be assigned a gender-typed first name of Laurie, in another condition the infant will
be assigned a gender-typed first name of Larry, and in the control condition the infant will not be
assigned a first name. The phrase “this infant” will be used instead of a name.
Twelve adolescents in the leadership class will be randomly assigned to each of the three
infant gender-typed name conditions. The gender of the students will be balanced in the
conditions. Students will be tested in groups on three consecutive days. Students and parents
will be told that the studies purpose is to see how an infant’s traits can be detected from their
Each group will be tested on a separate day. On that day, students will be told of the
importance of not telling other potential subjects about the details of the study. They will also
told that they will be given the results and the purpose of the study when all the research has
All students will be tested in the same classroom using study carrels, to block their views
from one another. They will be asked to not make noise or distract each other in anyway. The
materials will be passed out to each student. The directions will be read out loud in a neutral
tone. The same directions will be given to every group. Students will be told that there are no
right or wrong answers and that answers should be based on their opinions. Any questions will
be answered before the students begin rating the materials. After each student is finished and the
materials are collected, the student will be thanked for participating in the research.
The six pairs of bipolar adjectives will be rated by the adolescents in each condition of the
independent variable. The resulting possible range of values is 1-5. For example, students have
INFANT’S PERCEIVED GENDER AND ADOLESCENTS’ RATINGS 8
to rate an infant on the bipolar adjective pair “firm” and “soft,” “1” meaning more firm and “5”
meaning more soft. Scores on each of the bipolar adjectives will be analyzed. The mean and
standard deviation for each condition of the independent variable will be obtained. These are the
The inferential statistical procedures that will be performed are the two-way, between-
subjects ANOVA and Tukey’s HSD, to see which groups are significantly different.
The results of this study will be restated and evaluated in light of the initial hypotheses. If
the results are as predicted, the generality of sex-stereotyped perceptions of infants will be
extended to the population of adolescents. How the results relate to previous research and to the
theoretical issues discussed in the introduction will also be discussed. Practical implications of
the results for parenting will also be considered.
Limitations of the current research will be identified, along with suggestions for how future
research can build upon the findings of the current study. One limitation to the generalizability
of the findings is the use of only one photograph of one infant of a particular age. Future
research could utilize photographs of infants of a variety of ages to establish the robustness of the
results of the present study. Finally, the results and importance of this study will be summarized.
INFANT’S PERCEIVED GENDER AND ADOLESCENTS’ RATINGS 9
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INFANT’S PERCEIVED GENDER AND ADOLESCENTS’ RATINGS 10
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INFANT’S PERCEIVED GENDER AND ADOLESCENTS’ RATINGS 11
Please rate the infant [Laurie, Larry, no name] on each of the following items, placing a mark in
the space nearest the adjective you feel best describes the infant.
Figure 1. JPEG image of infant and bipolar adjectives rating scale.