Appropriate behaviour

As predicted the children who participated in the experiment chose the toy most relevant to their gender. Previous studies have shown that children, at about aged three become aware of what sex they are (Ruble, 1984). They then learn the appropriate behaviour for their sex. The children used in this study, were aged three to five and so were likely to know what sex they were. Cars are seen in this society as being a male orientated toy and dolls are seen to be more appropriate for females. This was reflected in the results.

Social learning theory explains that the children’s parents treat boys and girls differently (Maccoby,1990). Stereotypical behaviour is reinforced so boys are encouraged to play with cars and actively discouraged to play with dolls. The reverse is true for the girls but to a lesser extent as the feminist movement has influenced today’s society. These findings tell us that most of us are unaware that we are gender stereotyped.

In the results for this experiment the boys showed typical behaviour in choosing cars and very few actually chose the doll to play with as you can clearly see on the pie charts. A higher percentage of girls chose the opposite toy to that expected showing the possible influence of feminism in the change of society, but the majority still chose their gender specific toy. As stated earlier children discover what sex they are at about age three. It would be interesting to see if the children who chose the opposite toy were the youngest in the sample as the age range varied.

Unfortunately there were not equal amounts of boys and girls taking part in the experiment. The children were also of varying ages and of different social backgrounds. To improve the experiment it would have been better if equal numbers of boys and girls could have been used. The less variables the better the comparisons could have been. Variables that could have been controlled were, gender, the age of the child, the social background and time of day and location of the experiment.

If the experiment were repeated both groups could be tested at the same time of day, morning or afternoon. It would also be improved if the children were in the same environment. For instance the children could have all been brought into a room one at a time so that others around them could not see what was happening. The children who chose the toy could have been influenced with the others being able to see what was going on (observational learning).

Further investigations could be carried out. Both ‘SLT and Gender schematic theory’ say that children learn the appropriate behaviour by observation. It would therefore be interesting, to see if children with siblings of the opposite sex were more likely to choose the gender specific toy relating to their sibling.

In investigating this experiment, my findings were that most people do not realise that we live in a society that is stereotyped. People are unaware of this happening and therefore it would be hard for us to accept this, or change it. These gender stereotypes have been ingrained within our society for years and even if you try to change some aspects. It is likely that the stereotypical behaviour will continue as learning is coming from our society and culture as well as direct parenting.


The findings of this experiment reflect those of previous experiments. Boys and girls aged three to five years chose a gender specific toy when given a choice. The results were statistically significant at the 0.01 level of confidence, meaning that there was only a 1% probability of their choices being made by chance. These findings can be explained in terms of ‘Observational Learning’ through parenting and the society and culture, in which the children are raised. It would be interesting to do further research to investigate cross-cultural influences on gender stereotyping.

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