Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology



First Advisor

Bernice Lott


The purpose of this research was to examine the subtle effects of gender stereotyping in children's literature through the use of differential language, and to test hypotheses derived from a feminist framework. One general hypothesis tested was that female and male characters would not be represented equally in the literature. It was expected that female characters would be underrepresented in titles, pictures, and central roles. A second hypothesis was that there is a relationship between gender stereotypes and adjectives used to describe female and male characters in children's picture books. It was predicted that (a) adjectives used in children's books would be different for female and male characters, (b) male characters would more often be described with words connoting strength activity, positive evaluation, and masculinity, while female characters would more often be described with words connoting weakness, passivity, negative evaluation, and femininity, and (c) female and male authors would not differ in their use of stereotyped descriptors. Part I included a working sample of Caldecott Medal and honors books for the period, 1984-1994 (N=30). Gender of each author and information about each character [gender, developmental status (child, teenager, adult), animal versus human status, ethnicity (minority versus European/American)] was recorded by the researcher. Eighteen raters were used to record adjectives for each character from all of the children's books in the sample. There were three recording sessions with three pairs of raters in each. Part II included a sample of 50 travelers from a metropolitan train station, bus terminal, and airport. From Part I, the researcher identified the 20 most commonly recorded adjectives for female characters and the 20 most commonly recorded adjectives for male characters. These adjectives were then presented with Semantic Differential scales to the participants. The prevalence of female characters in titles, central roles, and pictures was assessed by counting and recording the raw numbers of female and male characters in each category. Three chi squares were used (one for each category) to determine if females are underrepresented in comparison to males. Results show that males are presented more often than females in titles and pictures. No difference was found between the number of female and male characters in central roles. From Part II, each participant's ratings produced a score for each adjective on the factors of potency, activity, evaluation, and gender association. Independent t-tests were conducted for each of the four factors to determine if a difference exists in the types and meanings of adjectives used to describe female and male characters. Analysis revealed significant difference between groups on all four factors. Boys/men were described with adjectives that are more potent (powerful), active, and masculine than girls/women. However, contrary to prediction, the adjectives used for girls/women were more positively evaluated than those used for boys/men. Next, use of the 40 most commonly used adjectives for female and male characters in each of the children's books was determined. Comparison was made between female and male authors' use of adjectives. T-tests were conducted to determine if a significant difference exists in the way that female and male authors use the descriptors. Results confirmed the prediction that female and male authors do not differ in their use of descriptors.



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