Cognitive Mechanisms in Children's Gender Stereotyping: Theoretical and Educational Implications of a Cognitive-based Intervention


  • This article is based in part on a doctoral dissertation submitted to The Pennsylvania State University by the first author, under the supervision of the second author. We thank Richard Lerner, Margaret Signorella, and Janet Swim for their help as members of the dissertation committee, and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. We are grateful to the staff and students of the St. Cloud State University's summer school program for their enthusiastic participation in the study. Portions of this work were presented at the biennial meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development, Seattle, April 1991.

Requests for reprints should be addressed to Rebecca S. Bigler, now at Department of Psychology, 330 Mezes Hall, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712.


The study was designed to test the hypothesis derived from cognitive-developmental theory that multiple classification skill plays an important role in children's gender stereotyping and in their processing of counterstereotypic gender information. Children (N= 75; 5-10 years) were matched on pretest measures of gender stereotyping and multiple classification skill and then assigned to: (1) multiple classification training using nonsocial stimuli, (2) multiple classification training using social stimuli, (3) a rule training intervention, or (4) a control intervention. Children who had acquired multiple classification skill via training with social stimuli and those children trained on rules for occupational sorting showed significantly more egalitarian responding on a subsequent measure of gender stereotyping and superior memory for counterstereotypic information embedded in stories. Additionally, children who had acquired multiple classification skill via training with nonsocial stimuli showed superior memory for counterstereotypic information, despite demonstrating no greater flexibility on the gender stereotyping measure. Both theoretical and educational implications of results are discussed.