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Psychological Androgyny and Children’s Mental Health: A New Look with New Measures

Abstract

We evaluated Bem’s (1981, 1993) thesis that psychological androgyny—perceiving the self to possess characteristics of both genders—is associated with healthy adjustment and minimal gender-polarizing cognition. Prior studies testing Bem’s ideas have yielded ambiguous results, mainly because self-perceptions of gender-typed attributes have been inferred narrowly from self-perceptions of expressive and instrumental personality traits. We administered measures of gender identity (self-perceived similarity to a gender) that more clearly capture self-perceptions of attributes typical of a gender, and we examined conjoint influences of same-gender typicality and other-gender typicality on children’s self-esteem, internalizing problems, felt pressure for gender differentiation, and sexist ideology. Two studies were conducted with ethnically/racially diverse samples of preadolescent children in the southeastern United States. In Study 1 (N = 305, M age = 10.8 years), androgynous children (i.e., children who saw themselves as similar to both genders) reported high self-esteem, evidenced few internalizing problems, and reported feeling little pressure for gender differentiation. In Study 2 (N = 236, M age = 11.3 years), androgynous boys reported few sexist beliefs. Children with other patterns of gender identity (e.g., high same-gender typicality coupled with low other-gender typicality) sometimes showed similar correlates, but each other pattern of gender identity was associated with poor adjustment or strong gender-differentiating cognition on at least one dependent variable whereas androgyny never was. Results support Bem’s thesis that persons who perceive themselves as possessing characteristics of both genders enjoy mental health advantages over those who perceive themselves as possessing characteristics of only one.

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Correspondence to Rachel E. Pauletti.

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The data presented here were collected in compliance with all APA ethical guidelines. We obtained IRB approval prior to data collection. We obtained written parental consent and child assent from all participants. Participants were treated according to APA ethical standards.

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There were no conflicts of interest involved in data collection or in the preparation of this manuscript.

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Pauletti, R.E., Menon, M., Cooper, P.J. et al. Psychological Androgyny and Children’s Mental Health: A New Look with New Measures. Sex Roles 76, 705–718 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0627-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0627-9

Keywords

  • Androgyny
  • Gender identity
  • Gender typing
  • Gender typicality
  • Sex Typing
  • Sexism
  • Self esteem
  • Children