The origins of heterosexist attitudes among young children



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Stereotyping and prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation are common among adolescents and adults. Although empirical data on the topic are lacking, theoretical work indicates that such biases are likely to emerge in childhood. Children attend to gender and the distribution of genders into roles--including familial roles--by three years of age. Furthermore, young children's limited cognitive skills, and a reliance on the inherence heuristic, lead to especially strong endorsement of many forms of stereotypes and prejudices. The primary goal of this thesis was to test theoretically derived hypotheses concerning the emergence of, and age-related changes in, children's heterosexist views of relationships across early and middle childhood. As part of this goal, I created a reliable, valid, and practical measure of heterosexist attitudes for use with 5- to 10-year-old children. Children viewed 12 advertisements that portray diverse types of human relationships, including both same- and cross-sex couples and families, and answered questions concerning their interpretation and liking of each image. Children also completed measures of their gender stereotyping and the inherence heuristic. Participants included 72 racially diverse children from a large city in the southwest United States. Results indicated that children were much more accurate at interpreting cross-sex than same-sex romantic relationships, and girls were better at this interpretation than boys were. Children's attitudes varied as a function of whether they had accurately or inaccurately labeled the same-sex pairs; those who incorrectly interpreted the same-sex couples as heterosexual had no difference in attitudes, but the children who correctly identified the same-sex romantic pairs showed more positive attitudes towards the cross-sex than the same-sex romantic pairs. There was an interaction of participant gender and image gender for children’s attitudes; children preferred the images that matched their own gender. There were no effects of gender stereotyping on children's attitudes or interpretation. Children who interpreted the same-sex romantic pairs correctly had high levels of inherence heuristic adherence. The study was successful in creating an original measure for assessing heterosexist attitudes in young children, and this opens up many promising venues for research on the development of heterosexist attitudes in young children.