Differing Levels of Gender Salience in Preschool Classrooms: Effects on Children’s Gender Attitudes and Intergroup Bias


  • The data reported here were collected as part of the first author’s master’s thesis, conducted under the supervision of the second author. Portions of this work were presented in April 2008 at the Gender Development conference, San Francisco. We express our appreciation to the child-care directors, Janie Hilliard and Barbara Crosby, for their willingness to accommodate this project, and to the participating staff, teachers, children, and parents for their friendly cooperation. We are also grateful to the members of the Cognitive and Social Development Lab at Penn State for their many contributions to data coding and entry, to Rebecca Bigler for her insights during various phases of this research, and to the Faris endowment of Penn State’s Department of Psychology for financial support.

concerning this article should be addressed to Lacey J. Hilliard or Lynn S. Liben, Department of Psychology, Moore Building, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802. Electronic mail may be sent to hilliard@psu.edu or liben@psu.edu.


Developmental intergroup theory posits that when environments make social-group membership salient, children will be particularly likely to apply categorization processes to social groups, thereby increasing stereotypes and prejudices. To test the predicted impact of environmental gender salience, 3- to 5-year-old children (N = 57) completed gender attitude, intergroup bias, and personal preference measures at the beginning and end of a 2-week period during which teachers either did or did not make gender salient. Observations of peer play were also made at both times. After 2 weeks, children in the high- (but not low-) salience condition showed significantly increased gender stereotypes, less positive ratings of other-sex peers, and decreased play with other-sex peers. Children’s own activity and occupational preferences, however, remained unaffected.