How Preschoolers Associate Power with Gender in Male-Female Interactions: A Cross-Cultural Investigation


Interactions between males and females often display a power imbalance. Men tend to adopt more dominant physical postures, lead conversations more, and are more likely to impose their will on women than vice versa. Furthermore, social representations typically associate males with a higher power than females. However, little is known about how those representations emerge in early childhood. The present study investigated whether preschool children from different countries assign more power to males than to females in the context of mixed-gender interactions. In Experiments 1a (n = 148) and 1b (n = 403), which implemented power through body postures, 4–6 year-old children from France, Lebanon, and Norway strongly associated power with a male character. Experiment 2 (n = 160) showed that although both French boys and girls identified themselves more with a dominant than with a subordinate posture, girls were less likely to do so in a mixed-gender context. In Experiment 3 (n = 213), which no longer used body postures, boys from Lebanon and France attributed more decision power and resource control to a male puppet than did girls. By investigating gender representations through interactions, the present study shows that children associate gender and power at an early age.

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Rawan Charafeddine Laboratoire Langage Cerveau Cognition, Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod; Imac Maria Zambrana, Faculty of Educational Science, Department of Special Needs Education, University of Oslo; Benoît Triniol, Laboratoire Langage Cerveau Cognition, Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod; Hugo Mercier, Laboratoire Langage Cerveau Cognition, Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod; Fabrice Clément, Centre de Sciences Cognitives, Université de Neuchâtel; Laurence Kaufmann, Institut des Sciences Sociales, Faculté des Sciences Sociales et Politiques, Lausanne University; Anne Reboul, Laboratoire Langage Cerveau Cognition, Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod; Francisco Pons, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo; Jean-Baptiste Van der Henst, Laboratoire Langage Cerveau Cognition, Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod

We wish to thank Emily Hewitt, Bérangère Testud, Mayssan Charafeddine, Léonore Ferrer Catala and Antoine Danielou for help with data collection. We also thank the participating children and their parents, the schools and Inspection Académique de Lyon, in particular Sylvie Coustier, Stéphane Garapon, Vincent Guili and Michèle Prieur, for making this research possible. We thank Gloria Origgi for her valuable input; Justine Epinat, Thomas Castelain, Audrey Breton, Thomas Charavet-Gomel and Ira Noveck for their support and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. This research was supported by a grant from Fondation de France and by CNRS (Défi Genre) awarded to the last author.

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Charafeddine, R., Zambrana, I.M., Triniol, B. et al. How Preschoolers Associate Power with Gender in Male-Female Interactions: A Cross-Cultural Investigation. Sex Roles (2020).

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  • Power
  • Gender
  • Dominance
  • Preschoolers
  • Mixed-gender interactions
  • Cross-cultural comparisons