Gender Norm Transgression and Gender Self-Identification

At Stanford, along with Ellen Markman and Carol Dweck, I am investigating people's conceptual representations of gender categories. Three lines of research have emerged out of this interest. First, we have sought to understand gender concepts under the dual-character framework, which proposes that some concepts have two distinct, parallel dimensions that can each determine category membership independently (Knobe, Prasada, & Newman, 2013). For example, the prototypical dual-character concept “artist” has both a concrete dimension of artistic skills, and an abstract dimension of aesthetic sensibility and values. Therefore, someone can be a good artist on the concrete dimension but not truly an artist on the abstract dimension. Could such an analysis help us understand why people can simultaneously endorse gender constancy/gender essentialism (e.g., transgressions of gender norms do not change one's gender) and the precariousness of gender membership (e.g., one is not considered truly a man/woman unless one follows certain gender norms and demonstrates certain gender-related behavior)? We found that, on some measures that primarily relied on metalinguistic cues, gender concepts did indeed resemble dual-character concepts, such that one can be described as in a sense a "man"/"woman" but in another sense not truly a "man"/"woman." However, on other measures that depicted transgressions of traditional gender norms, neither “man” nor “woman” appeared dual-character-like, in that participants did not disqualify people from being a truly a man or truly a woman. In a series of follow-up studies, we found that moral norms (e.g., being faithful) might have come to replace gender role norms for the abstract dimension for "man" but not "woman."

For specifics, see the article below:

Guo.C, Dweck, C. S., & Markman E. M. (2021). Gender categories as dual-character concepts? Cognitive Science PDF

The second line of research concerns people's perceptions of the legitimacy of self-identification in various domains, with a particular focus on gender self-identification. Preliminary results indicated that people's perceptions of gender self-identification were the most polarized among all the domains -- the distribution was U-shaped with the modes being at the two extremes such that most people were either strongly approving or strongly disapproving of the legitimacy of gender self-identification when it is at odds with experts' conclusions. People who were strongly approving of gender self-identification were also significantly more approving of self-identification in many other domains. We are looking forward to finding domains in which people are generally accepting of self-identification to build a scaffolding intervention leading to greater acceptance of gender self-identification.

The third line focuses on the developmental trajectory of perceptions of gender norm transgressions and its implications for social cognition in other domains. In one study, children from 4 to 12 years old were asked to predict whether a boy or girl group would like to be friends with other boys and girls who had either gender conforming or non-conforming interests in play, appearance, or occupational aspirations. We found that rather than relying on a single factor, children as young as 4 years old syhthesized information about others' gender group membership, gender (non-)conformity, and shared gender-relevant interests to reason about social affliation, and the specific patterns of such sythesis also differed dependning on the gender of the group making affiliation decisions.

Stereotype, Normativity, and Group Regularities

With Steven Roberts and Susan Gelman from the University of Michigan, I conducted cross-cultural research comparing Chinese and US children's (4-13 years old) and adults' (18-40 years old) understanding of novel stereotypes and group regularities as well as the influence of parents' social attitudes on such understanding of their children's. We found that the descriptive-to-prescriptive tendency replicated in the Chinese sample such that just like US children, Chinese children inferred prescriptive norms from descriptive information about groups and this descriptive-to-prescriptive tendency declined with age in the Chinese sample. However, this tendency was stronger in younger Chinese children than in same-aged US children, as young Chinese children were more likely to disapprove of the individuals' behaviors that were inconsistent with the characteristic behavior mentioned in the description of the individuals' group. Chinese children also used more norm-based explanations to justify their evaluations of the non-conforming behaviors than did US children. Our findings suggest that the descriptive-to-prescriptive tendency might be universal across cultures and evolutionarily rooted, but the degree of this tendency might vary greatly across cultures.

For specifics, see the article below:

Roberts, S. O., Guo, C., Ho, A. K., & Gelman, S. A. (2018).Children’s descriptive-to-prescriptive tendency replicates (and varies) cross-culturally: Evidence from China. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology PDF