Boy playing doctor with teddy bear
Ask a six-year-old, “Can girls become doctors?”, and they might say “yes” because they know it is possible (or because they want to give the answer you want to hear). But do they think of physicians as female? How would you even figure out the answer to that question?
A study out of the United Kingdom found a clever way to reveal children’s stereotypical beliefs. Researchers recruited kids between five and ten years of age and asked them to imitate people from different occupations. They tested whether they altered the pitch of their voices above or below their normal speaking voices, to see whether they were going out of their way to hint that the person they were imitating was male or female.
The researchers started by establishing what the children’s normal speaking voices were, asking kids to read sentences such as “The sheep is blue.” or “Where were you yesterday?”.
Then they’d ask them to read the sentences again, but this time, as if it were, say, a mechanic reading the sentences or a nurse.
There’s some good news here, for physicians like me. When pretending to be a doctor, the children didn’t change their voices. They didn’t perceive physicians as being stereotypically male or female…