Children's Gender Cognitions,
the Social Environment, and Sex
Differences in Cognitive Domains
Carol Lynn Martin
Lisa M. Dinella
The goal of this chapter is to consider links between sex differences in cognitive domains, children's early social environments, and their cognitions about gender. (We use the terms [sex] to refer to any study or finding in which people are selected on the basis of demographic categories of female and male, and [gender] to refer to judgments or inferences about the sexes, such as stereotypes, roles, and concepts.) The social environment is broadly construed to include what children do with others, specifically the toys, interests, and activities children engage in, and who they interact with, specifically, experiences with same-sex peers. Two related themes will be discussed. One is how children's cognitions about gender directly influence their cognitive abilities, strategies, and motivation, and the other is how children's gender cognitions come to be influential through their indirect contributions to the children's social environment. Specifically, we propose that children's gender cognitions help shape their social environments, and their social environments, in turn, shape their beliefs, activities, skills, interactional styles, and attitudes.
The first section is a review of cognitive approaches to gender development. In the second section, an overview of the heuristic model of the interrelations among gender cognitions, the social environment, and cognitive sex differences is presented. In the third section, sex differences in children's play and activity prefer