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Making Men of Steel: Superhero Exposure and the Development of Hegemonic Masculinity in Children


Superheroes are extremely popular among children, adolescents, and adults in the United States (and worldwide). However, there is little research on the impact of superhero exposure on developmental outcomes, particularly over time. The current paper includes a 5-year longitudinal study examining the relationship between superhero exposure in early childhood and indicators of hegemonic masculinity in later childhood, including endorsement of masculinity ideology, muscular ideal, and male gender stereotypes, and attitudes toward women. Participants included 155 children (51% female, Mage = 4.83 years at Wave 1) and their parents, who completed several questionnaires at two separate time points. Analyses revealed that early superhero exposure was indirectly associated with weaker egalitarian attitudes toward women and greater endorsement of the muscular ideal during later childhood through superhero exposure in late childhood. Implications for individuals, parents, and media producers are discussed.

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We would like to acknowledge the Women’s Research Initiative at BYU for financially supporting this project. We would also like to thank all the student research assistants for their help throughout the project.

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Correspondence to Sarah Coyne.

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Coyne, S., Shawcroft, J., Ruh Linder, J. et al. Making Men of Steel: Superhero Exposure and the Development of Hegemonic Masculinity in Children. Sex Roles 86, 634–647 (2022).

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  • Superhero
  • Media
  • Masculinity
  • Gender stereotypes
  • Muscular ideal
  • Childhood play development
  • Attitudes toward women
  • Gender