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Dressing up with Disney and Make-Believe with Marvel: The Impact of Gendered Costumes on Gender Typing, Prosocial Behavior, and Perseverance during Early Childhood

Abstract

Wearing costumes is a common experience during early childhood and is often important to sociodramatic play. Costumes tend to be highly gendered for both girls and boys (such as princess and superhero costumes). However, there is very little research on the impact that wearing costumes has on gender-differentiated behavior, such as toy preference, prosocial behavior, or perseverance during early childhood. The current study included 223 U.S. children, aged between 3 and 5 years-old. Children were assigned to wear either a gendered, counter-gendered, or gender-neutral costume, and they then took part in three gender-related tasks. There was no impact of wearing costumes on any task for girls. However, boys preferred feminine toys significantly more when wearing a neutral costume when compared to a masculine-typed one. Additionally, boys were significantly less likely to help when wearing a masculine-typed costume compared to a feminine-typed costume. There are several implications of these findings that are discussed in the paper. Parents may wish to purchase a wide range of costumes for their child for sociodramatic play, particularly for boys. Therapists could also potentially use costumes during play therapy to discuss gender issues. Additionally, costume producers could consider marketing a wide range of costumes for children as opposed to largely focusing on gendered ones.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Liam Coyne and his love of costumes and beautiful imagination for inspiring this research.

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This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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Correspondence to Sarah M. Coyne.

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Coyne, S.M., Rogers, A., Shawcroft, J. et al. Dressing up with Disney and Make-Believe with Marvel: The Impact of Gendered Costumes on Gender Typing, Prosocial Behavior, and Perseverance during Early Childhood. Sex Roles 85, 301–312 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-020-01217-y

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Keywords

  • Costume
  • Gender
  • Princess
  • Superhero
  • Perseverance
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Persistence
  • Childhood play development