The Role of Classification Skill in Moderating Environmental Influences on Children's Gender Stereotyping: A Study of the Functional Use of Gender in the Classroom


  • This research was supported by a grant from the University Research Institute of the University of Texas at Austin. Thanks are extended to Gina Toumi for assistance in data collection and to Judith Langlois, Lynn Liben, Jacqueline Woolley, and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. Portions of this work were presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, New Orleans, March 1993.

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


Sandra Bem has suggested that societal use of gender as a functional category increases gender stereotyping. The present study tests Bem's theory and the additional hypothesis that children's classification skill moderates environmental effects on gender stereotyping. Elementary school children (N= 66) were given pretest measures of gender stereotyping and of classification skill and assigned to 1 of 3 types of school classrooms in which teachers made: (1) functional use of male and female groups, (2) functional use of “red” and “green” groups, or (3) no explicit groups. After 4 weeks, children completed posttest measures of gender and intergroup attitudes. As predicted, the functional use of gender categories led to increases in gender stereotyping, particularly among those children with less advanced classification skills. The functional use of color categories did not result in highly stereotypic perceptions of groups. Theoretical and educational implications are discussed.