Scholarly article on topic 'Stereotypes and Prejudices at School: A Study on Primary School Reading Books'

Stereotypes and Prejudices at School: A Study on Primary School Reading Books Academic research paper on "Sociology"

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{"Social categorization" / Stereotypes / Prejudices / Education / "Gender ;"}

Abstract of research paper on Sociology, author of scientific article — Daniela Damigella, Orazio Licciardello

Abstract Stereotypes and prejudices are based on the social categorization process (Tajfel, 1981). Their formation and development are strictly related to personal experience and to social learning dynamics. The aim of our study was to examine the content of different primary school readings books using content analysis. Results seem to delineate a general tendency to convey gender stereotypes.

Academic research paper on topic "Stereotypes and Prejudices at School: A Study on Primary School Reading Books"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 127 (2014) 209 - 213


Stereotypes and Prejudices at School: a Study on Primary School

Reading Books

Daniela Damigellaa*, Orazio Licciardellob

aUniversity of Messina, Department of Educational and Psychology Sciences, Via Bivona 6, Messina, 98121, Italy; _bUniversity of Catania, Department of Educational Processes, Via Biblioteca 4, Catania, 95124, Italy;


Stereotypes and prejudices are based on the social categorization process (Tajfel, 1981). Their formation and development are strictly related to personal experience and to social learning dynamics.

The aim of our study was to examine the content of different primary school readings books using content analysis. Results seem to delineate a general tendency to convey gender stereotypes.

©2014 The Authors.PublishedbyElsevierLtd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selectionand peer-review under responsibility of Romanian Society of Applied Experimental Psychology. Keywords: Social categorization; Stereotypes; Prejudices; Education;Gender;

1. Introduction

The human being has the natural tendency to divide the world into categories, grouping people on the basis of their similarities with respect to certain characteristics. This process has an adaptive function in both cognitive (less effort) and motivational (to develop a good self-image as a result of a comparison with individuals belonging to other groups) aspects.

However, categorizing also means to perceive members of an outgroup as more similar than they really are and to consider members of different groups more different. A relevant consequence of this process is the genotypic

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +393288374204 Email address:

1877-0428 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Romanian Society of Applied Experimental Psychology. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.03.242

tendency to ingroup bias, that is ingroup favoritism in intergroup relationships in order to achieve a positive social identity (Tajfel, 1981) representation.

Social categorization, therefore, is at the basis of stereotypes and prejudices development (Tajfel, 1969).

A stereotype, indeed, could be defined as a cognitive structure containing the perceiver's knowledge and beliefs about a social group and its members (Hamilton & Trolier, 1986). It forms part of the individual's cognitive belief (Billig, 1991), it is the best friend of mental idleness and it is the cognitive core of the prejudice (Brown, 2010).

Allport's (1954) definition of prejudice is an antipathy based upon a faulty and inflexible generalization, which can be directed to a whole group or to an individual as a member of that group.

Stereotype and prejudice formation and development are strictly related to personal experience and to social learning dynamics that took place in different contexts (e.g. family, school, peer group) and that make use of several tools (stories, books, advertisement etc.).

Narratives, for example, influence children because they echo parental voices (Wetherell, 1996) and are an important period in creating stereotypes is education.

Indeed, school, as a place in which social values and attitudes are transmitted, and the textbooks here chosen, could be vehicle of gender stereotypes (Britton & Lumpkin, 1977; Witt, 1996; Sleeter & Grant, 2011; Atay & Danju, 2012).

Schau & Scott (1984) meta-analysis revealed that to fulfil the individual potential, a flexible gender-role attitude is necessary. In this sense equitable portrayals of male and female characters with both masculine and feminine traits are necessary and desirable in the content of children's textbooks.

Evans & Davies (2000) stated that, despite publishing house guidelines established to create non-sexist literature in textbooks, the data from a study on the portrayal of gender characteristic in elementary school reading textbooks revealed that males are more often depicted as aggressive, argumentative and competitive, whereas females are more likely to be characterized as affectionate, emotionally expressive and passive.

In this respect, we carried out a study on primary school reading books, because they contain texts that accompany children daily and on which are often focused considerations promoted by the teacher. Moreover, very often the same publishing house accompanies students throughout the course of the primary school.

Certainly, this kind of books is among the tools that can influence the process of stereotyping. Nevertheless, they represent an important element, especially when they add to others that concur to create the same representation.

2. Method

2.1. Aim and hypothesis

Primary school reading books could be a vehicle of gender stereotypes and prejudices, so our study's aim was to examine N=174 texts from 5 different primary school readings books, from first to fifth grade, to investigate if male and female portrayals in textbooks are affected by gender stereotypes. In other words, are males and females depicted in a stereotyped way?

2.2. Research Method

We have chosen those texts with human beings as characters, for a total numebre of 174 texts. For each of these pieces we have conducted a content analysis in a small group setting in order to reduce the risk of assigning a subjective meaning to the analyzed text. This way we have found different categories and sub-categories: professions (clerk, labourer, freelance, teacher etc.); toys (dolls, clockwork; manual; video game); play's setting (outdoor; indoor); sport activities (individual or team games); personality traits (positive and negative). For each category and sub-category we have calculated the frequency related to male, female, mixed (male and female) or neutral (gender not desumible by text or/and image) .

Data analysis was carried out through SPSS 20 for Windows (Statistical Package for Social Science), using the frequency and the chi-square analysis.

3. Results

Through the analysis of the texts of the examined reading books we have found a general tendency to convey gender stereotypes.

3.1. Characters' gender and profession

In general, there is a slight male predominance (47.1%) compared to the female one (38.5%) in relation to the texts' characters (mixed are 13.8% and neutral are 0.57%).

Moreover, even if in quantitative terms male's professions are the same compared to female's ones, a qualitative analysis data revealed that males do satisfactory and socially recognized jobs (freelances, artists, police officers, athletes) and females are above all described as wives, mothers and, sometimes, schoolmistress.

3.2. Toys

Data related to toys is interesting. In this case clockwork toys are associated only to male characters and, using chi-square analyses, the data revealed that females are more frequently associated with both manual (85.7% and 14.3%) (X2=7.00, 1df,p=.008.) and dolls (63.6% vs. 36.4%) (X2=11.00, 1df,p=.001) than males.

In addition to the fact that clockwork toys (cars, aero planes, trains etc.) are absent in association with female characters, through a qualitative text analysis, we have found that dolls are connected with female protagonists to perform a maternal role and to reveal stereotypically feminine traits (emotionally expressive, nurturing, affectionate, tender) and with male characters to highlight their capacity to ensure protection, to be assertive, decisive and adventurous. Data on manual toys has gone toward the same direction: those relating to boys are balls, dices, educational toys; instead for female this sub-category is based on small saucepans, windmills and stickers.

3.3. Play's settings

This kind of analysis revealed that there is no difference in gender distribution in relation to game activities done inside of the house, but there is a relevant variation for those played outdoors (male: 60.53% and female: 39.47%) (X2=92.00, 1 df, p<.001).

These results seem to confirm the socially accepted idea that it is normal that little girls play at home, or at least in an indoor environment, encouraging the development of a sense of intimacy; likewise it seems right that male children devote their time in outdoor games that allow them to practice and demonstrate their physical and social skills and their explorative and adventurous competences.

3.4. Sport activities

According to data, are that related to individual or team sport activities. Indeed, only male characters play in team and females are more frequently associated with individual games than males (62.5% and 37.5%) (X2=16.00, 1 df, p=.003).

This result seems in accord with previous related to indoor and outdoor play's setting: females spend their time in indoor environments and play individual sports; males are depicted in outdoor contexts and play team sports. This seems to reproduce the stereotyped portrait of a female orientation to closeness and a male orientation to social relationships.

In this regard, we have to consider that sport, especially during the middle childhood (that is the age of the readers of the analyzed texts), is a special way to share experiences and goals and to facilitate friendship between peers in order to promote mutual loyalty and a sense of membership (Bombi & Pinto, 1993).

3.5. Personality traits

It is interesting to note that positive traits (as sympathy, determination, courage, virtue, curiosity as a sign of intelligence, foxiness) are more frequent for male characters than for female ones (71% and 29%) (X2=186.00, 1 df, p<.001) and vice versa for negative traits (as timidity, envy, vanity and a curiosity as an expression of being busybody). This means that females are described more frequently in a negative light than males (84.6% and 15.4%) (X2=39.00, 1 df, p<.001).

4. Conclusion

In general, we could say that the texts of the examined reading books seem to reproduce gender stereotypes: women are sweet, sensitive and caring but also gossipy, crybaby and vain; men are strong, fearless, courageous and capable of self-determination.

Indeed, female characters are represented in indoor environments, doing mostly individual activities and using toys coherent with domestic roles, thus confirming the traditional idea of the woman who has to stay home to play the role of mother and wife, devoted to the care of home, children and husband.

Male protagonists, instead, carry out prestigious and satisfactory professional activities or, in some cases, those that are stereotypically assigned to a man. Moreover, the same fact that they spend a consistent part of their time in outdoor activities convey the image of a man who develops his social identity (Tajfel, 1981) and his self-esteem through memberships and intra and inter group relationships.

The same personality traits are strictly related to these images.

The relevance of these results is related to the fact that the process of social categorization, the basis of the development of stereotypes and prejudices, can also be based on the contents of the school reading books and on the support given to them by the teachers.

Therefore, equal opportunities between women and men should also have roots and confirmation in school reading books. They should provide roles that are not based on biological gender but on abilities and competences to avoid the risk of reproducing roles based on traditional and stereotyped models.

Moreover, a gender portrait based on stereotypes could strengthen the stereotype threat (Steele, Spencer & Aroson, 2002), that is the risk of confirming, as self features, a negative stereotype of the group. In other words, it is the resulting sense that a person can be judged or treated in relation to the stereotype or that one might do something that would confirm it.

Probably, agreeing with gender similarities hypothesis (Hyde, 2005) which holds that males and females are similar on most, but not all, psychological variables, it is time to give space to intelligent, strong and courageous women, as well as to sweet and caring men, no more forced to deny their feelings.

Therefore, it is desirable that school concurs to the development of individuals with flexible identities, who will choose activities in relation to their abilities rather than social expectations (Katz, 1996).

We aim to do further researches relating to gender stereotypes and textbooks because a stereotyped male and female portrait could limit career opportunities, skills, behavior and identity development.


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