Appearance–reality distinction and development of gender constancy understanding in children
In two independent studies, the relationship between children’s ability to distinguish appearance from reality (AR) and their understanding of gender constancy1 (GC) was examined. In Study 1, German children (N = 130) aged 3;8 to 9;5 years were tested (1) in four standard AR tasks, and (2) by 21 items related to the three stages of gender constancy understanding. In Study 2, Hungarian children (N = 75) aged 3;0 to 6;0 years responded to (1) appearance and reality questions while they or an experimenter were wearing a facial mask, and (2) a gender constancy interview using Bem’s(1989) photographs and scripts. In Study 2, the role of genital knowledge was also examined. For gender consistency questions, children were asked about appearance (“looks like”) and reality (“really is”) in both studies. Applying pass–fail criteria to AR and GC responses, children in both studies were grouped as “realists” vs. “nonrealists” and as “gender-constant” vs. “non-gender-constant”. The two studies converged in finding a strong association between the ability to distinguish appearance from reality and gender constancy understanding. The observed association between AR and GC was independent of age and children’s genital knowledge. However, while the results of Study 1 suggested that the AR distinction precedes sex-category constancy, in Study 2 the two abilities appeared to develop concurrently. Further, children in Study 1 achieved both AR and GC at a later age than children in Study 2.