The relationship of sex-role stereotypes to the behavior problems of boys and girls



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The purpose of the present study was to explore the ways in which parents conceptualize adjustment and maladjustment in their child. It was proposed that parents use sex-role standards in the process of evaluating and attributing positive and negative qualities to their child's behaviors and attitudes. One hundred and two families, including mother, father and identified patient (51 male, 51 female), were randomly selected from the files of a child guidance clinic. Age of child and SES were balanced between the families of boys and girls. Each parent was interviewed using a modification of the critical incident technique. was asked first to describe an instance of behavior on the part of his child which was especially troublesome and critical to his decision to bring the child to a guidance clinic, and second, to provide a description of a particularly pleasing example of behavior. was then asked to respond to a series of four vignettes which varied systematically according to the masculine or feminine character of the behaviors portrayed and to the sex-role congruence or incongruence of the situation. Data analysis was organized into two parts, involving the critical incidents and the vignettes. Content analysis of the critical incidents yielded a 16-scale profile of presenting complaints, together with a supporting 8-scale profile of desirable behaviors. In order to test the hypotheses that the negative and positive behavior profiles would differ significantly according to sex of child and sex of parent, two multivariate analyses of variance were performed, with 16 and 8 dependent variables, respectively, using a 2 X 2, repeated measure design. MANOVA results for the negative behavior profiles revealed a significant main effect for Sex of Child, F(16,85) = 10.01, p <.001, and a significant interaction effect for Sex of Child x Sex of Parent. F(16,18) = 1.99, p <.05, supporting the hypothesis that parental evaluations of their child's behavior differ significantly depending upon whether they are describing a son or daughter. The MANOVA results for the positive behavior profiles revealed a significant main effect for Sex of Child, F(8,93)= 4.00, p<.002, again supporting the hypothesis that parents use different standards of appropriate behavior for boys and girls. Additionally, the expectation that the differences between the profiles of boys and girls could be conceptualized along dimensions of sex role, was also supported. Those scales which differentiated boys and girls consistently fell into two general categories, the first involving a cluster of behaviors more related to the feminine role requirements of warmth and expressivity, and the second involving a cluster of behaviors more related to the masculine role requirements of competency and instrumentality. In both cases the child, did not appear to measure up to expectations for appropriate behavior, either by directly contradicting sex-role requirements or by extending sex-role behaviors to a dysfunctional degree. Parental responses to the vignettes were rated according to their degree of punitiveness and the degree of pathology attributed to the behavior portrayed in the situation. A four-way ANOVA was performed for each of these dependent variables. Results of the ANOVAs for punitiveness and pathology revealed significant interaction effects for Sex of Child x Vignette, or Congruence/Incongruence, confirming the hypothesis that problematic behavior which was also sex-role incongruent would elicit more negative evaluations than would problematic role congruent behaviors. The analysis also revealed an unexpected main effect for Vignette and Sex Role of Vignette, indicating that the masculine behaviors were judged more negatively than were the feminine behaviors, regardless of role congruence. It was suggested: a) that the masculine vignettes included and were thus confounded by a greater degree of troublesome behavior, and/or b) that masculine problem behaviors involving aggressive acting out, demand more attention and evoke more concern than feminine problem behaviors of passivity and dependency.