Gender 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.
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.
- 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
- 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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