Role models in coloring books: effect on preschool girls' play behavior, imitation, and attitudes

Modeling is one of the most powerful means of transmitting gender-typed information to young children. Some forms of modeling, however, may be more powerful than others in commanding a child's attention. For example, preschool children whose conceptual and verbal skills are still developing may fmd a role model presented in a coloring book particularly appealing. This experiment was designed to test the impact of role models in coloring books on young girls' gender-typed attitudes and play behavior. Four-and five-year-old females (N= 63) were randomly assigned to one of three coloring conditions: (a) a princess working with a microscope, (b) a female scientist working with a microscope, or (c) images without a role model or microscope. Following the coloring activity the children were given four toys with which to play. There was one female-stereotyped toy (doll), two crossgender-stereotyped toys (car and microscope), and one neutral-gender typed toy (puzzle). As hypothesized, girls who colored either of the role models spent significantly more time playing with the microscope and imitating the 2-step procedure of placing the slide on the microscope and looking through the eyepiece than did those in the control group. Unexpectedly, there was no difference between the princess and scientist role models in the amount of time the children spent playing with the microscope or imitating the procedure. This research offers new insights into the possible use of coloring books for instilling cross-gender play behavior, and introducing young children to the use of scientific tools such as a microscope. Key words: Role models, Coloring books, Imitation, Gender, Play, Toys, Preschool.