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The acquisition of gender labels in infancy: Implications for sextyped play (2009)

This study intended to assess the onset of gender labels during infant development. The longitudinal study included a sample of 82 children (36 males, 46 females) and their mothers. Families were primarily middle-class, European American. Participant criteria made sure all infants were the firstborn baby and were free from neurological or sensory abnormalities. The study focused on gender labeling and self-labeling. Reports on language development were collected from the mother while the infant was 9 months through 21 months. Videotypes of infant play alone and with the mother were independently assessed at 17 and 21 months for sex-typed play and symbolic play. Specifically sex-type play was determined by individual toy choices and the duration of interactions with dolls versus trucks. While both genders had overall similar patterns with toy labeling, the girls started gender-labeling significantly earlier than boys. There were subtle sex differences at 17 months and were significantly different by 21 months. There was an increased rise in sex-typed play with trucks and dolls between the ages of 17 and 21 months and this was related to the knowledge of greater numbers of gender labels and self-labeling. Limitations in this study included non-casual results and mother participants purposely changing their behavior to help with the study, possibly yielding more female-stereotypical play. In the future, these researchers want to focus on more research on the natural sex differences in play before the age of 2 by isolating different types of play behaviors with the features of toys to better understand particular features of toys that appeal to girls and boys.

By: Jolie Haertter

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