Parenting beyond pink and blue – what’s the brain got to do with it?
Gender is one of the most important organisers of social life. From the moment a child is born, it shapes how children are parented and talked to, and parents’ reactions to the child’s behaviours, activities, and play styles; processes referred to as parental gender socialisation. Gender socialisation often happens unconsciously, and its underlying processes can therefore be captured best with neuroscientific measures. It is important to understand the underlying processes because traditional gender socialisation has been associated with gender-inequality and the development of traditional gender-stereotypes in children as well as gender differences in child problem behaviour. Knowledge about the underlying neural mechanisms of gender socialisation can be translated into strategies for parents to treat boys and girls more equal (e.g., focusing on monitoring or control of stereotypes), which subsequently ensures optimal development of both boys and girls. More broadly, the neuroscience of stereotypes can inform interventions aimed at reducing inequality in society. Therefore, this project aims to explain mothers’ and fathers’ observed gender socialisation practices with their preschool-children (3-6 years old) from their neural responses to gendered child stimuli. We focus on preschoolers, because at this age parents play the most important role in children’s gender socialisation.
Using a within-family multi-method design, we examine whether mothers’ and fathers’ brains respond differently to daughters versus sons. Moreover, we examine whether mothers’ and fathers’ brains respond differently to boys and girls that confirm versus violate gender expectations regarding toy preferences and problem behaviour. Additionally, we examine whether these differences in parents’ brain responses relate to various aspects of gender socialisation with their own children, and whether brain activity mediated the effect of child gender on parenting. Lastly, we examine whether these differences in parents’ brain responses relate to differences in the behaviour of their sons and daughters.