Gender Stereotypes May Affect Perceptions of Infants’ Cries

Baby lying on blankets and cryingGender stereotypes may influence how adults perceive babies’ cries, even when there are no differences in pitch, according to a study published in BMC Psychology.

The study found gender stereotyping can begin as early as a baby’s third month of life. Although there are no actual differences in voice pitch between males and females before puberty, the study suggests adults may perceive differences that are not present.

How Gender Stereotypes Change Perceptions of Pitch

Researchers recorded the spontaneous crying of 13 baby girls and 15 baby boys. The babies were an average of 4 months old. They then altered the pitch of the cries while leaving all other features alone, making it easier to discern adult perceptions of and reactions to pitch.

Next, they played the recordings to adult participants in a series of trials. The study participants were a mixture of parents and non-parents. The adults tended to attribute high-pitched cries to female babies, and they believed low-pitched cries were from male infants.

This misperception affected other aspects of the adults’ reactions to crying. For example, participants thought babies with high-pitched cries were in greater distress. However, when men thought a low-pitched cry belonged to a boy, they were more likely to believe the cry signaled great distress than if they thought the cry was coming from a girl.

The Impact of Gender Stereotyping on Babies

According to the study’s authors, this could mean men more strongly internalize gender stereotypes than women. Because men may perceive boys’ cries as indicative of greater distress than girls’ cries, it could also have significant implications for child welfare. Men may be more likely to respond to boys in distress than girls.

Because adults may incorrectly assess the level of distress associated with crying, these assessments could impede their ability to effectively respond to babies in distress. The study suggests parents should be aware of how gender stereotypes affect their perceptions, and how these perceptions then affect their interactions with children.

The study’s authors intend to study whether these perceptions of babies’ cries subsequently affect the way babies are treated.

References:

  1. Gender stereotyping may start as young as three months, study of babies’ cries shows. (2016, April 22). Retrieved from http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/35272
  2. Reby, D., Levréro, F., Gustafsson, E., & Mathevon, N. (2016). Sex stereotypes influence adults’ perception of babies’ cries. BMC Psychology, 4(1). doi:10.1186/s40359-016-0123-6

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  • Tabby

    Tabby

    May 2nd, 2016 at 10:07 AM

    wow the stereotyping starts very early in life huh? kind of hard to overcome those obstacles when you are already fighting an uphill battle from such a very young age!

  • theo

    theo

    May 3rd, 2016 at 5:02 PM

    I don’t know whether I ever gender stereotyped, but man I am telling you, when any of my kids would cry I would know immediately who it was and that it was mine. Even if I had been in a room with 100 crying babies I think that instinctively I would know where to find mine just from the sound of their cries.

  • Robert

    Robert

    May 4th, 2016 at 2:17 PM

    Another thing that I have noticed is that when women have higher pitched or softer voices veen, they are made out to be dumb and ditsy. You know, none of us can help what our voices sound like, any more than we can help how tall or short we are. We need to stop placing such shallow labels on people for things that are beyond their control and have nb real impact on who they are or how smart or powerful they are.

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