Sex Roles, Vol. 42, Nos. 3/4, 2000
The Effect of Target Age on the Activation of
Kimberly K. Powlishta
Two studies investigated the impact of target age on gender stereotyping.
Study 1 examined whether the attribution of gender-stereotypical traits to
unfamiliar individuals varies as a function of target and participant age.
Adults and children (ages 8–10 years) viewed photographs of men, women,
boys, and girls and rated each pictured individual on the possession of
masculine, feminine, and gender-neutral personality traits. Both adult and
child participants showed evidence of gender stereotyping. The strongest
level of stereotyping was seen when adults rated child targets. Adults were
particularly unwilling to attribute feminine characteristics to males. Finally,
participants of both ages viewed adult targets (regardless of sex) as more
masculine and less feminine than child targets. Study 2 examined the general-
ity of the latter ﬁnding. Adult participants rated traditionally masculine and
feminine traits on the likelihood of possession by adults versus children.
Conﬁrming the results of Study 1, feminine traits were believed to be more
childlike/less adultlike than were masculine traits. Implications for gender-
role development, socialization, and measurement are discussed.
By middle childhood, children typically have acquired extensive, adultlike
knowledge about the gender stereotyping of personality traits (e.g., Best,
1982; Best et al., 1977; Powlishta, Sen, Serbin, Poulin-Dubois, & Eichstedt,
2000; Ruble & Martin, 1998; Williams, Bennett, & Best, 1975). However,
it is unclear whether these stereotypes are believed to apply equally to
adult and child targets. Researchers typically have participants assign
traits to male and female children depicted in stories, photographs, or
videotapes (e.g., Berndt & Heller, 1986; Biernat, 1991; Martin, Wood, &
Little, 1990; Powlishta, 1995b, 1995c), to silhouettes depicting males and
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department of Psychology, Box 1125,
Washington University, 1 Brookings Drive, St. Louis, Missouri 63130.
0360-0025/00/0200-0271$18.00/0 2000 Plenum Publishing Corporation