Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Advisor

Bernice Lott


The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the underlying meanings conveyed by media images to preschool age children in three samples of award-winning picture books. One general hypothesis was that female characters would be underrepresented in illustrations found in children's picture books relative to male characters. A second hypothesis was that female characters would more often be portrayed in subordinate and degrading images than male characters. It was predicted that girls/women would be presented more often than boys/men in traditional and passive roles, shorter, below, behind, in deference (bent over, head tilted), as objects of ownership (arm-lock, shoulder-hold, hand-hold), employing the feminine touch, receiving instruction, smiling, attempting to hide face with hands, sucking/biting fingers, averting head/eyes , and glancing toward an unidentifiable object (mental drifting). A third hypothesis was that books written during an earlier time period (1967-1976) would contain a greater number of subordinate images of women and dominant images of men (as defined by each of the predictions in hypothesis 2) than books written during a more recent time period (1987-1996). In Part I the sample of books examined were Caldecott Medal and Honor books, Boston Globe Horn Book Award-winning and Honor books, and New York Times Choice of Best Illustrated Children's Books of the Year Award (N = 294), representing two separate time periods, 1967-1976 and 1987-1996. Twenty books were randomly selected from each time period for a total of 40 books. The researcher counted and recorded the total numbers of individual girls/women and boys/men in each of the 40 books. All pictures from each time period were reviewed and given a number. A random sample of forty pictures (twenty from each time period) were selected. The researcher recorded time period, ethnicity of characters, and author for each of the 40 pictures for use in post hoc analyses. The forty pictures were made into slides and presented to a group of 20 raters from the Community College of Rhode Island who rated female and male characters in each picture on function ranking, physical positioning, and facial expression categories. In Part II, 111 participants from Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island enrolled in a Social Psychology, Human Services, or Marketing course and 19 parents of preschool age children (these persons were asked by the students to participate in the study) were asked to view a series of 36 slides (two pictures from each of the 18 categories listed as predictions in the second hypothesis) and rate the female and male characters on a Semantic Differential scale. Participants were then asked to complete the Modern Sexism scale. There were three main findings from the present study. First, support was provided for the hypothesis that female and male characters would not be represented equally in illustrations. Overall, there were significantly more boys/men presented than girls/women. There was a significant increase in the number of boys/men pictured over time, yet no difference was found for girls/women over time. Second, partial support was found for the hypothesis that girls/women would be presented in subordinate and degrading images more often than men. Females were more likely than males to be presented in passive roles, shorter, in deference (body bent over, head tilted), receiving instruction, and expressing fear. Boys/men were more likely to be shown grasping girls/women in shoulder-holds and hand-holds. Contrary to prediction, males were more often shown below and behind females, and employing touch more often than females. No differences were found between girls/women and boys/men on the remaining seven categories. These findings on images were strengthened through the analysis of visual cues in Part II. Raters interpreted visual cues differently for female and male characters on the factors of activity, potency, and evaluation. Specifically, boys/men were rated as more active and potent, and were evaluated more negatively than girls/women. Third, no support was found for the third hypothesis that pictures from 1967-1976 would contain more subordinate images of girls/women and dominant images of boys/men than those from 1987-1996, with the exception of one analysis. Boys/men from 1967-1976 were more likely to be presented as sucking/biting fingers than boys/men from 1987-1996. Post hoc analyses were conducted to determine whether (a) girls/women of European ethnicity and of African/Asian/Hispanic ethnicity were portrayed in subordinating/degrading images more often than boys/men of the same cultural background and (b) a difference exists between participant scores on the Modern Sexism scale and ratings of pictures on the Semantic Differential.



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