Screens are television, computer, smartphone or tablet, game console. Watching screens has become a common hobby, a companion, and, for families, a nanny. However, this leisure is not without danger for the cognitive development of children. Furthermore, it increases prejudices, aggressiveness and pathogenic consumptions.

Intellectual disabilities

Screens take the time that children could spend reading or acting on their environment, manipulating, inventing stories, looking for small animals or flowers, interacting with peers …

Most of the time, screens are watched in a passive way (online videos, television …). But movement is at the root of neuronal development. The most primitive forms of nervous systems are dedicated to the movement of a multicellular organism.

The experience of Richard Held and Alan Hein (1963) illustrates the importance of action in learning. They kept kittens in total darkness from birth. As soon as they became able to walk, they were exposed to light for 3 hours a day, during which, half of the kittens, always the same, could move by pulling each a small basket in which was another kitten. The other half of the kittens were those who remained passively in the basket. They could only move their head and see their surroundings. After a few weeks, active kittens had developed normal motor skills, while passive kittens behaved like blind kittens.

Passivity itself is not bad, if it is properly balanced with moments of action.
To act on the world, one needs to observe. Perception, reflection and action feed each others. It’s like a breath. Perception is an inspiration, action, an exhalation, sometimes taking the form of an intellectual action, we think about planning an action, a creation. And it is this need for action / creation that arouses perception and reflection.

But the perception of images on a screen is not a perception guided by ourself, for actions or future creations. It is a transformed flow of information, a rapid succession of images and sounds, designed to capture attention and sell. It hypnotizes, rather than informing.

Studies by Ayelet N. Landau, Michael Esterman, Lynn C. Robertson, Shlomo Bentin, and William Prinzmetal show that this form of attention involves different nerve circuits than those used in concentration on a task. It is called “automatic” or “exogenous”, as opposed to “voluntary” or “endogenous” attention. An experiment by Ayelet N. Landau, Deena Elwan, Sarah Holtz and William Prinzmetal shows that impulsiveness is correlated with the first form of attention (involuntary) and negatively correlated with the second form (voluntary). Television promotes the development of involuntary attention to the detriment of voluntary attention.

Michel Desmurget, in his book “TV lobotomy” (2011) quotes the study of Marie Winn which notes the collapse of performance between the years 1965 and 1980 on a test of verbal skills called verbal SAT, which is part of the selection tests used by American universities. She notes, in her book “The plug-in drug”, that this collapse is consecutive to the penetration of television in American homes, as indicated by the curve below:

Relation between TV equipment and SAT performances
Relation between TV equipment (descending curve meaning growing penetration) and SAT performances (descending curve meaning decreasing performance)

We can see that the time between the two curves (number of households equipped and verbal SAT scores) is simply the age that students must have when they take the test.

That said, a correlation between two events does not necessarily mean that one is the cause of the other. A more prominent study is the one conducted by Tannis MacBeth Williams and her colleagues in the 1970s in Canada, and reported in her book “The Impact of Television: A Natural Experiment in Three Communities”.
At the beginning of her study, not all Canadian cities have yet been connected to the TV network. Of those that are, some receive multiple channels, and others only receive one. This allows Tannis MacBeth to make three groups of children: NoTel (no TV), OneTel (a single TV channel) and multiTel (multiple channels). She measures their performance at a reading task. She notes that the results of the NoTel group are higher than those of the two others.
Shortly after, the municipality of the group NoTel is connected to the television.
Verbal performance is measured again two years later. The group of children of former NoTel maintains its lead over the other two groups. But this is not the case of new children of former NoTel belonging to the class level of children NoTel two years earlier, ie those who had access to television programs due to the connection. For these new children, there is no significant difference between the three municipalities.
Tannis MacBeth doesn’t only observe the damaging effect of TV on verbal performance. She also notes that television exposure increases aggression, gender prejudices, and reduces creativity.

Studies reported in Carolyn N. Hedley, Patricia Antonacci and Mitchell Rabinowitz’s book “Thinking and Literacy- The Mind at Work” focus on hundreds of thousands of children, and find that their performance is negatively correlated with their television consumption.

Drawings of children related to TV exposure
Drawings of children related to TV exposure. Source: Winterstein & Jungwirth “Medienkonsum und Passivrauchen bei Vorschulkindern”, quoted in “TV lobotomie” by Michel Desmurget

Perhaps the impact of screens depends on the quality of the programs offered, and educational programs can be beneficial for children?
According to a study by Rachel Barr and Harlene Hayne, this is not always the case, at least for young children. In one of the experiments of their study, a woman shakes a puppet in front of children of 12, 15 and 18 months. She removes the bell that the puppet has in her glove, shakes it, then puts it back in the glove of the puppet. Some of these children see the woman in real life, the other sees a video recording. The results show an imitation rate of the complete demonstration much higher in the real condition, as shown in the figure below:

Developmental changes in imitation from television during infancy, Rachel Barr & Harlene Hayne
Developmental changes in imitation from television during infancy, Rachel Barr & Harlene Hayne

These results are consistent with those obtained by Cordua, Mac Graw and Drabman, 1979 (See “Role models”)


Does violence on screens influence children’s agressivity? The question is important because violent images are in constant increase. In the US, for example, we observe an average of 18.6 violent events per hour of cartoons on Saturday morning children’s programs in 1980, and it becomes 26.4 in 1990 (New York Times, 1990).
The American study “National Television Violence Study” (J. Federman, S. Smith, C. Whitney, J. Cantor and A. Nathanson, 1998), observed over 3 years 10 000 hours of randomly selected programs on 23 popular American channels. The results show that 60% of the broadcasts contained acts of violence, that they occur on average 6 times per hour, that they are perpetuated in a realistic way and positive characters. In more than 7 out of 10 cases, the violence caused no remorse, criticism or punishment. Another American study that shows that 70% of youth programs included violent content, with 14 incidents per hour (Barbara J. Wilson, Stacy L. Smith, James Potter, Dale Kunkel, Daniel Linz, Carolyn M. “Violence in Children’s Television Programming: Assessing the Risks”, 2002).

Eron, Huesmann, Lefkowitz and Walder, in 1972, conducted a study during 10 years. They noted the viewing habits of 800 children who are, in the beginning, 8-9 years. Researchers noted also their aggressive behavior, as reported by their classmates. Boys who watch a lot of violence are much more aggressive than those who prefer less violent programs.
Ten years later, half of these children were tested again on their television preferences and their aggressive tendencies, also reported by their environment. Results show that a high level of exposure to violence on TV at the age of 9 was positively correlated with aggressiveness at 19 years old.

Effect of violence on TV on boys' behavior
Effect of violence on TV on boys’ behavior. Source : “Hilgard’s introduction to psychology”, 1996, par Rita L. & Richard C. Atkinson, Edward E. Smith, Daryl J. Bem and Susan Nolen-Hoeksema

The study does not show a correlation for the girls, but most violent models on TV are male.
This experiment was confirmed by 28 others of the same type.
However, we can think that it was the initial aggressiveness of the child that orients him to violent programs. Other studies show that the display of violent programs precedes the appearance of aggressive behaviors in children.

Michel Desmurget, in his book “TV lobotomie” (2011, in French) quotes a study by Kaj Björqvist made in 1985. He shows a violent video to a group of children aged 5-6, and a neutral video to another group of children of the same age. He observes the children’s behavior in the playroom after the video. The results show that children who watched the violent video were significantly more likely to push, hit, and provoke their peers than those who watched the neutral video. Similar results are reported on a study by Wendy Josephson (1987) who observes children 7-8 years old playing hockey after watching a video either neutral or violent. Michel Desmurget cites many other studies with similar results (“TV lobotomy”, pp. 219-221).

Mediated violence also affects compassion, through the phenomenon of habituation (described in the article “Active learning”). Michel Desmurget reports numerous studies. In one of them, conducted by Margaret Thomas in 1977, 8-10 children and college students are divided into two groups, one watching a violent movie, the other a non-violent movie. Then, the subjects are invited to watch the video of a real aggression. During the vision of this last video, the experimenters collect physiological markers of emotion (blood pressure, electrodermal response). The results show that these signals are strongly attenuated among the subjects who observed the violent film.
Michel Desmurget also cites studies showing that men exposed to violent images tend to accept more easily physical and moral violence against women (“TV lobotomie”, pp. 226-227). For example, he describes the study by Charles Mullin and Daniel Linz, in 1995, where faculty students were exposed to a horror movie every other day for six days. These contained a particularly heavy load of sadistic violence directed against women. Three days after the last screening, the students were exposed to videos in which women, victims of real violent assaults, described in detail her ordeal. The results showed that, compared to a control group that did not watch the horror movies, the students who viewed the movies felt less empathy for the victims, who were portrayed as responsible for their misfortune, and the severity their trauma was greatly minimized.

Take educated individuals, submit them to violent images involving sadistic behaviors directed against a woman, and our merry boys will eventually explain without blushing that rape victims are sluts who have desserved what happened to them and that anyway, it’s really not that bad.
(Michel Desmurget “TV lobotomie”, p. 227)

These results are the opposite of theories considering mediated violence as a cathartic outlet, and aggression as an innate need whose quantity and expression would depend on the genetic program specific to each individual.

The imitation of violence has tragic consequences in the area of ​​sex. Sex education of adolescents is often done through the viewing of pornographic movies, made widely available through Internet. In pornography, however, pleasure arises mainly from the humiliation and enslavement of women. Girls learn, with more or less success, to find pleasure in these performances, to please their partner. It is difficult to measure how much this phenomenon alienates young people’s ability to establish a true loving, tender and empathetic relationship, and to get from this connection a more fulfilling and lasting form of desire.

One may also question the relationship between exposure to pornography and a greater risk to commit rape. We have already cited the studies reported by Michel Desmurget on the effect of watching horror films on the reduction of empathy toward women victims of violence. For some men and boys, visual models can even erase the line between fantasy and reality.

However, it is difficult to conduct rigorous experiments in this area, which would involve putting women’s safety at risk for the needs of an experiment. Studies are therefore most often based on the collection of interviews.

The study “Pornography and Sexual Violence” by Robert Jensen and Debbie Okrina, describes interviews that were conducted by Diana Russell (1998), and by Robert Jensen (2004).
Based both on the lab research and interviews, Diana Russell has argued that pornography is a causal factor in the way that it can:
(1) predispose some males to desire rape or intensify this desire;
(2) undermine some males’ internal inhibitions against acting out rape desires;
(3) undermine some males’ social inhibitions against acting out rape desires;
(4) undermine some potential victims’ abilities to avoid or resist rape
(Russell, 1998, p. 121)

Robert Jensen conducted interviews with pornography users and sex offenders, and various other researchers’ work. They have led him to conclude that pornography can:
(1) be an important factor in shaping a male-dominant view of sexuality;
(2) be used to initiate victims and break down their resistance to unwanted sexual activity;
(3) contribute to a user’s difficulty in separating sexual fantasy and reality;
(4) provide a training manual for abusers
(Dines & Jensen, 2004)

Here are some of the reports of these two studies:

From a woman involved in street prostitution, who reported that when one John exploded at her he said: “I know all about you bitches, you’re no different; you’re like all of them. I seen it in all the movies. You love being beaten. [He then began punching the victim violently.] I just seen it again in that flick. He beat the shit out of her while he raped her and she told him she loved it; you know you love it; tell me you love it” (Silbert & Pines, 1984, p. 864).

From a woman, interviewed in a study of sexual assault: “My husband enjoys pornographic movies. He tries to get me to do things he finds exciting in movies. They include twosomes and threesomes. I always refuse. Also, I was always upset with his ideas about putting objects in my vagina, until I learned this is not as deviant as I used to think. He used to force me or put whatever he enjoyed into me” (Russell, 1980, p. 226).

From a 34-year-old man who has raped women and sexually abused girls: “There was a lot of oral sex that I wanted her to perform on me. There were, like, ways that would entice it in the movies, and I tried to use that on her, and it wouldn’t work. Sometimes I’d get frustrated, and that’s when I started hitting her. … I used a lot of force, a lot of direct demands, that in the movies women would just cooperate. And I would demand stuff from her. And if she didn’t, I’d start slapping her around” (p. 124).

Other consequences

Michel Desmurget shows that television has also effects on sleep, eating disorders, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking.

The effect of television on pathogenic consumption reveals the damage of an economy based on mass consumption.
Television is becoming increasingly financially supported by advertising, which makes viewers “super-consumers”, with more damages on children. This closes the vicious circle of an economic system which ultimate outcome is the destruction of nature.

Modern lifestyle favors high television consumption: car traffic and crimes encourage parents to keep children safe at home, with their smartphone, computer, console, games and television. Work and travel times reduce parents’ time, attention and patience. Finally, in many households, fathers do not assume, or not enough, the parental and household duties that should be their’s as much as the mother’s, when she also works.


Experiments in psychology reveals different factors that can influence the efficiency of memory.

The conclusions of these experiences reported here were taught by Hervé Devos, professor of occupational psychology, at the “Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers de Lille”, school year 1997-1998.

Effects related to the pedagogic material

Effect of repetition

The more an event is repeated, the better it is memorized. Redundancy is therefore useful, but with different formulations, to increase decontextualization.

Law of distribution (Jost’s law)

Remembering is better when alternating breaks between learning (distributed learning) and when breaks are not too long.

Global learning and partial learning

This corresponds to the distinction between mass and distributed learning but adding an organizational dimension : it is the way we’re going to cut the material. Partial learning consists of cutting the material into small parts accessible to the target. The different parts are learned separately, one after the other. Global learning is about remembering the material entirely. The effectiveness of the division depends on the level of expertise of the students in relation to the complexity of the content and the form: the less the subject is familiar with the discipline or the more complex the material, the more the partial learning is effective. Global learning is more effective for the expert because he / she perceives the logic that emerges from the overall text and selects the interesting details.

Visual vs verbal

People do not have the same facilities to remember two presentations of the same concept. Some people retain better an imaged material (drawings, curves, diagrams …) and others a verbal material. Both types of presentation are therefore interesting to use simultaneously to ensure understanding by all learners.

Recency and primacy

Experiences show that, of a list of words, we remember better the beginning and the end.
In long-term memory, ie when the reminder is delayed for a few days, only the beginning of the message is remembered. Advertisers are well aware of this phenomenon, so the most important information is often presented at the beginning and sometimes at the end of the advertisement, and the advert is preferably at the beginning or at the end of an advertising sequence. On a pedagogical level, the effects of recency and primacy demonstrate the usefulness of an introduction and a conclusion containing the most important information.

Effect of familiarity

The more familiar a word is, the easier it is to memorize, thanks to pre-existing structures in memory. An educational application is the presentation of familiar examples to illustrate a complex course.

Effect of significance

The more significant a material is in relation to the concrete experience of the individual, the better it will be remembered. An educational application is to give practical exercises before introducing the theory.

Interference effect

Proactive interference (not retaining new information) occurs when the new information belongs to the same semantic field as the previous ones. It is therefore useful in the organization of pupils’ schedules not to follow very similar subjects (for example an Italian lesson after a Spanish course).

Categorization effect

The more a material is composed of categorizable units, the easier it is to remember. That’s why it’s best to present the presentation plan before. This effect is similar to that of partial learning, but emphasizes the division by semantic categories.

Effect of complexity

The memory span is 7 plus or minus 2 elements. It seems that this discovery by Miller (1956) results rather from the time needed to read the list of items. An educational application consists in grouping the information into categories which time required for their utterance corresponds to the period of time implicitly discovered by Miller. If the number of categories is too high, they can in turn be grouped into super-categories (each containing a memorable number of categories) respecting a memorable speech time. Thus the information is structured in a hierarchy instantly accessible in memory.

Effect of distinction

To be perceived, a stimulus must be well distinct from its environment. In pedagogy, this means that the parasitic effect of a background noise caused by chatting in an amphitheater, for example, can be neutralized by creating a contrast between the sound pitch of the teacher and that of the pupils.

Effect of time

The more time passes and the more the memory fades, but the ease of learning in the same semantic domain increases.
We distinguish in order of decreasing retention:


The subject is presented with information and asked to judge the information he has already encountered. MCQs operate according to this paradigm.


The information presented to the subject is represented in the disorder, the subject must return the material in the initial order.

Free recall

The subject recalls the information presented to him in the order that suits him.

Ordered recall

The subject recalls the information in the order presented to him. It is a cross between the reconstruction paradigm and the free recall paradigm (the requirement is twofold).

Forgetting is faster for recall and then for reconstruction. The recognition is almost stable over time.

Effects related to the subject

Effect of motivation

A minimum of motivation is required to memorize. But an excess of motivation causes stress and alter memorization.

memory and motivation

It is therefore important to know how to manage stress in a situation of exam. To help an anxious person, several solutions are possible: cognitivo-behavioral therapies propose the “systematic desensitization”, that is to face the situation on more and more stressful stages until the final stressfull situation. Each step is accompanied by relaxation exercises. This progressive scenario can be illustrated in school by mock exams. Another form of therapy is to totally immerse the subject in the anxiety situation. The risk is then a permanent flight from the subject. Another solution to overcome neurovegetative reactions is to practice a sport.

Effect of sleep

The effect of sleep corresponds on a larger scale to the effect of breaks between learning (law of distribution of the exercise). Montagner’s Studies show that a child’s performance rate is correlated with the number of hours of sleep.

Effect of drugs

In low doses, alcohol, cannabis, caffeine,… can reduce anxiety and therefore increase alertness. But this effect is more related to psychic autosuggestion than to the real chemical effects of the substances, for example by associating the memory of consumption with a pause, the pause being a pretext for the first shots, then, by associative learning, the substance becomes self-sufficient. But this psychological effect is minimal. On the other hand, an excess of these substances causes a clear alteration of the memory. It is often in search for the initial effect that people end up in excess, thus producing exactly the opposite effect than the desired one.

Effect of brain damage

The effects produced by various types of brain damage show that we do not have a single memory. The aphasia of Wernicke for example (semantic confusions in the verbal discourse) is systematically accompanied by a lesion of the left temporal lobe, we can deduce that this cerebral zone manages the connections between the phonological characteristics and the semantic content of the language.

Coactive learning

Coactive learning is a way of learning by interaction with others. This is an efficient form of learning and co-working, if the group is given good conditions to work together. Otherwise, group activities can result in the affirmation of the most aggressive people, and in the reduction of self-confidence and withdrawal of some others. There are various factors involved in the effectiveness of coactive learning. We will see  the influence of the spatial arrangement, of the nature of the task, of the leadership, then how we can improve empathy. Finally we will study collective polarization and rumors.

Spatial arrangement

Leavitt (1951) proposes a collective task with 5 subjects: finding the missing figures on 5 cards of 5 figures, knowing that each subject has a card with a different missing figure and that it is necessary to reach 5 identical cards. Each subject passes one card at a time by another subject. Leavitt varies the disposition of the members of the group: in circle, in chain, in wheel or in Y.

Circle arrangement
Circle arrangement
Chain arrangement
Chain arrangement
Wheel arrangement
Wheel arrangement
Y arrangement
Y arrangement

And it measures the number of exchanges of information and the satisfaction of the members.

The results show that centralized structures (wheel and Y) are more efficient than decentralized structures (circle and chain): they require less information exchange to reach the solution, but the only satisfied members are those who are at the center of exchanges (D and especially C), felt by others as leaders, because they are the ones who direct the flow of information. Decentralized structures produce a more balanced satisfaction among the members of the group but are slower to solve the problem.

Nature of the task

Faucheux and Moscovici add a factor to Leavitt’s experience: the nature of the task, and propose two types of collective tasks:

– a task of creativity (the Riguet tree): it is to obtain the most different figures of figures a, b, c, from an initial figure, closed figures being excluded.

Reference figures (a, b, c)
Reference figures (a, b, c)
Initial figure
Initial figure
Closed figure
Closed figure

– a problem solving task (Euler’s figure): replacing the boxes X and Y by a letter between A and D and a digit between 1 and 4, without repeating, in a same row or column, a number or a letter, and without using A1, B2, C3 or D4.

Euler figure
Euler figure

Results show that the decentralized structures are more efficient for the task of creativity while centralized structures are more efficient for the task of problem solving. Moreover, they observe that if the group is allowed to structure itself, it spontaneously takes the most effective disposition in relation to the nature of the task.


To study the effect of the the style of leadership in a group, Lipitt and White propose to 3 groups of children the construction of the stage set of a theater, with a group leader. Each week a different style of leadership is applied:

– Authoritarian Leadership: The adult makes all decisions about activities, assigning tasks and does not reveal anything in advance. He stays away from the group for anything that is not directly related to the task.

– Democratic leadership: the decisions to be made are submitted to the group that discusses them with the participation of the adult. As soon as children stumble over a technical problem, the adult tries to provide at least two alternatives. Every child is free to work with whoever he wants.

– “laissez-faire” leadership: the adult gives the children total freedom of activity and organization. It merely repeats the instruction, indicates the available equipment and only gives help when a child asks for it. In no case does he evaluate positively or negatively, but he tries to be friendly rather than distant.

The results reveal a maximum efficiency for the democratic group, then the authoritarian group. The laissez-faire group is very unproductive. These results are consistent with those obtained with respect to the effectiveness of a decentralized structure for a creative task. In addition, when the facilitator is absent, the democratic and laissez-faire groups continue their activity while the authoritarian group stops.

The measure of aggressiveness within the groups shows that an authoritarian leadership produces intergroup aggressiveness, whereas not having a leadership maximizes aggressiveness within the group. The democratic leadership annihilates all aggressiveness, as children are fully focused on the creative activity.

Nowadays, French schools are on the “Laissez-faire” leadership style (which means, no leadership at all). Many governments who’ve unsuccessfully tried democracy were in fact also failing in developping a democratic leadership (having corruption instead), and fell into an authoritarian (religious) one because of the damages caused by full freedom of people (“Laissez-faire”), giving rise to the law of the strongest. I suspect this will also be the fate of the western world.

Learning empathy

To work better together in a democratic way, it is essential to understand each others, so to cultivate empathy, that is, the ability to identify oneself with the other and to understand and anticipate one’s ideas and emotions.
Many exercises can be done by adults as well as children to cultivate empathy.

Ashoka proposes a toolkit for schools and families. The exercises are grouped in 3 steps:
– prepare (at the beginning of the year for a school): creating a safe space for the participants
– engage: group play, storytelling, and collective problem solving
– reflect & act: participants identify shared values ​​and differences, and instill courage courage to enable action
Here are some examples of activities from this document:

– Sample exercise of the “Prepare” step: break students into small groups of 3 or 4 to brainstorm and decide upon a set of words that answer this question: How do you want to feel in the classroom each day? Collect the words from each group, listing them on the board. Discuss as a whole class which words are the most common and give students the opportunity to advocate for a particular word. Students vote on their favorite three words, and the five words (or more) with the most votes will form the foundation of the charter. Another step is to work with the students to turn feelings into rules and expectations. For example, what does “respect” look like in everyday practice? Be as specific as possible: Rather than landing on “being nice,” encourage them to identify specific behaviors that they can track and hold themselves accountable for. For example, taking turns speaking, making eye contact, sitting up, etc.

– Sample exercise of the “Engage” step: either read a story, a chapter of a history book or an article in the newspaper, or watch a documentary. Then ask the students to answer the following questions:
How would you feel if you were [person/character]?
How do you think [person/character] might be feeling? How do you know?
Can you think of a time when you felt the same way?
What led him/her to make that (pick one) choice?
What would you have done differently in that situation?
Which character in the story do you relate to most and why?

– Sample exercise of the “Reflect and act” Step: begin by asking students, “Have you ever seen or heard someone being bullied or called a name? If so, how did it feel?” Start them off by sharing your own experience. Then ask students to share their answers one at a time, when they’re ready. Afterward, brainstorm what students can say or do when they witness name-calling or bullying, recording each suggestion on chart paper. Introduce the concept of a safe response, such as: say what you feel, take a stand by using words or phrases that interrupt or end the name-calling, ask for help from an adult, find a friend, ignore the situation or exit the area…

When it comes to mobbing, my personal experience has taught me that the highest risk for a child is to be isolated.
An isolated child is a child in danger.

Learning empathy at school can prevent mobbing

There are also interesting exercises used in acting. For example :
– Each member of the group, in turn, performs for one or two minutes, slow movements that the others imitate.
– Form a circle, holding hands, and “to pass a stream” by tightening the hand in the direction opposite to that which one receives. The person who emitted the current first can emit another later in the opposite direction.
– One person speaks and another, behind her, makes hands, having significant gesture according to the speech or manias (ex: scratching the chin or hair).
– Guide another person who has a blindfold, then reverse the roles.
– In a circle, one after another completes the words of the others to make a sentence (verb, adjective, nominal group, etc., but no “little words” such as “the”, “of”, etc.)
– improvise a scene on a subject, for example: a girl comes home very late and her parents express their concern.

Collective polarization

In the 1950s, people use to think that decisions made by groups moderated individual decisions. James Stoner (1961), a student in management in the U.S.A., decided to test this assumption. He questions people about various dilemmas, individually, in groups, and again individually. For example, an engineer must decide between keeping his current job with a modest but correct salary and with confidence on the stability of the company, or take a new high-paid position in a company that has just been created, and that has not yet proved its viability. The subjects make their decision on a scale of chances, in our example of the engineer, will he change position knowing that the chances of success are 5 out of 10, 3 out of 10 or 1 in 10. When Stoner compares group decisions with decisions taken before by the same individuals, he observes an increase in risk taking, this new opinion remaining stable in a second individual measure.

Other results show that the group decision can result in a decrease in risk taking compared to individual decisions.
Collective decisions tend to accentuate the initial positions of the members of the group.
This effect is called “collective polarization”. Several explanations have been proposed. Here are the two main ones:

– The informative influence: the members of the group learn new information and hear new arguments but they tend to raise more arguments in favor of their initial position than against. They thus skew the discussion and push the final decision further in the direction of the initial positions.

– Normative influence: people compare their own initial point of view with the group norm. They can thus adjust their position to comply with the position of the majority. The group provides a canvas of references that makes its members perceive their initial position as too weak or too moderate.

Other studies show that the personal involvement of group members increases collective polarization, and that the initial position of a directive leader polarizes the group towards his decision.
To show this phenomenon, Janis (1982) establishes a historical study on three American failures:
– The Pearl Harbor Affair (1941): The military in place had warned the U.S.A. headquarters of a possible attack by the Japanese air force, but the information was ignored.
– The Korean War (1950): The Americans had planned to invade Communist North Korea, but the Chinese intervention had been underestimated.
– The landing in Bay of Pigs (1961): the American strategy did not take into account the roughness of the terrain (presence of mountains, for example).

This study shows that the failures were all due to a collective polarization during the discussions in military or governmental councils, towards the initial positions of a too directive leader. This does not mean that the presence of a leader is harmful, but that he/she must be trained in group dynamics. She/he must be able to encourage participation, contradictory arguments and their dialectical resolutions, the diversification of points of view, and to put mutual respect into practice. He/she does not take a stand before the discussion begins. Janis also prescribes the renewal of meetings (to allow time for individual reflection and a second chance to alternatives), the presence of people having an opposite opinion and experts, to temper the phenomenon of polarization.

The process and damages of rumors

Rumors are a dangerous phenomenon of collective polarization. They are particularly involved in the designation of scapegoats. They can also influence testimonies, members of a jury, therefore decisions of justice, political or military actions …

They were studied by psycho-sociologists Allport and Postman (1945). During the Vietnam War, a rumor spread about disproportionate damage caused by the failure of Pearl Harbor. Although Roosevelt denied this interpretation, a survey of students before and after the speech reveals that anxiety continued. To understand this phenomenon (the birth and persistence of rumors), they analyze 1000 types of rumors collected in 1942. They find that within a group, the spread of rumors about a specific subject is directly related to the importance and the ambiguous nature of this subject for the life of each member of the group. The content of the rumors is generally hostile (60% of the 1000 rumors studied) or express a fear (25%).

Allport and Postman perform an experiment on 40 groups of subjects to analyze the cognitive processes at work in the propagation of rumors. In each group, 6 or 7 subjects volunteer to go out while the rest of the subjects watch an image.

Example of image used in Allport & Postman study, 1945
Example of image used in Allport & Postman study, 1945

A subject enters and sees the image, then it is removed and a second subject comes back to listen to the description of the image by the first subject. The other subjects return one by one to listen to the description transmitted by the last one having heard it. The analysis of speech transformation shows the following processes:
– reduction: the message tends to be simplified and shortened.
– accentuation: the message is transmitted by selecting and exaggerating certain details.
– assimilation: the content of the message reflects the habits, interests and feelings of the transmitters.

Collective memory performs, in a few minutes, a reduction equivalent to that achieved by an individual memory in a few weeks.

The structure of the message adapts, on the one hand to the human cognitive functioning, on the other hand to individual and cultural representations.

The intervention of the laws of the cognitive functioning appears in the following effects:
– the consistency of messages or their assimilation to a main theme, such as the texts recalled by Bartlett’s subjects: if in the picture, a Red Cross truck appears loaded with explosives, it is described as carrying medical equipment.
– the need to retain a spatial-temporal structure: the first sentence places the message, “this is a battle scene” for example.
– a better retention of familiar and significant symbols: in some images, the church and the cross.
– the addition of explanations: “an accident occurred”.

Social representations and their emotional charges appear, for example, in the description of black people: the knife goes from the hand of the white man to the one of the black man, the number of black people is accentuated …

Allport and Postman conclude: “We will speak of the triple process of transformation (reduction, accentuation, assimilation) of a rumor, as a process of consolidation. It is clear from all our experiences, as well as from other researches carried out in this field, that all subjects face the difficulty of grasping and retaining, in their objectivity, the stimuli coming from the outside world. To be able to use them, they must restructure them in order to adjust them to their boundaries of comprehension and memory, on one hand, and to their personal interests and needs, of the other hand. What was external becomes internal, what was objective becomes subjective. The kernel of objective information received by the individual is so deeply integrated into the dynamic of his mental life that the transmission of a rumor is mostly a projection mechanism.”

Role models

Children learn to interact with others by imitating their peers, particularly those who share similar characteristic, such as age or gender. Even fictive models are efficient. Role models can convince an individual that their abilities are limited. This is known as the “stereotype threat” and it has been experimentally observed. When it comes to gender prejudices, the effect of prejudices can be reduced when children learn that any competence can be developed, and that sex is determined by the genitals, instead of clothing or attitudes.

Observation and imitation

An individual and especially a child can model his behaviors through imitation (copying a model) and observation (general rules across multiple models) of people who belong to the same reference group. Observation and imitation can be considered as powerful agents of cultural transmissions.

Imitation is particularly done on a reference group (group the person belongs to, or wants to belong to). Children and teens discover values ​​and behaviors of their peers through family, school and media. Perception of the peers group is built around individuals who are used as a reference to define the group (Zavalloni, 1984, 1986).

Children's imitation of adult aggression
Children’s imitation of adult aggression
Source : “Hilgard’s introduction to psychology”, 1996, Rita L. & Richard C. Atkinson, Edward E. Smith, Daryl J. Bem, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema

According to Cordua, Mac Graw & Drabman, 1979, models are more effective if they belong to real life rather than media. However, Bandura, in 1973, notes that observation of the aggressiveness of live model results in the imitation of more specific aggressive acts, whereas observation of filmed models (either real-life or cartoons) instigates more aggressive responses of all kinds.

Imitations of aggression chart
Imitations of aggression chart
Source : “Hilgard’s introduction to psychology”, 1996, Rita L. & Richard C. Atkinson, Edward E. Smith, Daryl J. Bem Susan Nolen-Hoeksema.

Pygmalion effect and Stereotype threat

A study by Frederique Autin, Fabrizio Butera and Anatolia Batruch, in 2018, shows that the image that teachers have of a student influences their rating. Their rating is worse for the same copy when they believe that the student comes from a disadvantaged background.

Even more frightening, the image that the adult has of the child changes the child’s self-image. This effect was experimentally demonstrated by the Rosenthal brothers in 1968, who call it the Pygmalion effect.

Rosenthal brothers tested children’s IQ in school and gave fake results to the teachers at the beginning of the school year. During the year, the students who were presented as “good” had better average results at school than others. A new test of these “pretended” good students showed an increase in their IQ. Students for which no positive expectations have been induced are described as less curious, less interested, less happy, and having less chance of success in life.
Since only the teachers knew the results of IQ tests, only their attitude towards the students can explain this result. Rosenthal brothers do not observe precisely the mechanisms at work in the transmission of the prejudices of the teacher to the students. Has the student been less questioned, less listened to, more criticized? When did the image of the student’s teacher become the student’s self-image? How does self-image affect performance?

Pygmalion effect or Self fulfilling prophecy
Pygmalion effect or Self fulfilling prophecy

A research conducted by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson can answer to this last question.
In an article published in 1995 in “Journal of personality and social psychology”, they show that black American perform worse than white American on an verbal test (SAT) if they are told beforehand that this test will diagnose their intellectual ability. There is no significant difference in performance if the test is presented as a laboratory problem-solving task that was non diagnostic of ability. There was a third condition in which the test was presented as challenge, although non diagnostic of ability, for which results were in between. They did other experiments showing that black Americans had more anxiety, doubts about themselves and prejudices when the test is supposed to measure their intellectual abilities.
Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson conclude that the anxiety about the threat of an intellectual diagnosis and even a challenge, is due to black Americans’ prejudice about their ability, and that their lack of self-confidence impairs their performance. They call this effect the “Stereotype threat“.

Performance difference in a verbal test (SAT) between black and white Americans
Performance difference in a verbal test (SAT) between black and white Americans, when the test is said to be predictive of their competence and when it is not.
Claude Steele & Joshua Aronson, 1995

Another article published in 1997 in the journal “American Psychologist” by Claude Steel shows a similar phenomenon between men and women. Women are less successful than men in a difficult math test if they are informed in advance that the test generally shows gender differences, while there is no significant difference between participants if they are told that men and women perform as well on this task. Other experiences also found that participants’ post treatment anxiety, not their expectancy or efficacy, predicted their performance.

Difference in performance between men and women on a mathematical task, when a prejudice is suggested, and when it is not. Claude Steel, 1997
Difference in performance between men and women on a mathematical task, when a prejudice is suggested, and when it is not. Claude Steel, 1997

In the ensuing decade more than 300 studies have been published that support this finding.
The results of these experiments show that stereotype threat is often the default situation in testing environments. The threat can be easily induced by asking students to indicate their gender before a test or simply having a larger ratio of men to women in a testing situation (Inzlicht & Ben-Zeev, 2000). Research consistently finds that stereotype threat adversely affects women’s math performance to a modest degree (Nguyen & Ryan, 2008) and may account for as much as 20 points on the math portion of the SAT (Walton & Spencer, 2009).
Aronson’s research also has shown that high-achieving and motivated women in the pipeline to STEM majors and careers are susceptible to stereotype threat.

In France, Pascal Huguet (CNRS) and Isabelle Regner (Toulouse University) present a test to teenagers. If it’s presented as an exercise of geometry, there is a large gaps between the performances of boys and girls. There is no difference in performance between boys and girls if the geometry test is presented as an exercise of drawing.
This experiment also illustrates the negative impact of stereotypes on girls: the performance gets worse on the same task when they think it’s about math, because they do not believe in their skills in mathematics.

Carol Dweck, social and developmental psychologist at Stanford University, provides evidence that a “growth mindset” (viewing intelligence as a changeable, malleable attribute that can be developed through effort) as opposed to a “fixed mindset” (viewing intelligence as an inborn, uncontrollable trait) leads to greater persistence in the face of adversity and ultimately success in any realm.

People with a “fixed mindset” tend to avoid challenges, give up easily, see effort as fruitless, ignore useful negative feedback and feel threatened by the success of others. Whereas people with a “growth mindset” embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism and find lessons and aspiration in the success of others. As a result, they reach ever-higher levels of achievements.

When it comes to gender prejudices, many studies show that a growth mindset protects girls and women from the influence of the stereotype that girls are not as good as boys at math.
Dweck and others have found gender gaps favoring boys in math and science performance among junior high and college students with fixed mindsets, while finding no gender gaps among their peers who have a growth mindset (Good & al., 2003; Grant & Dweck, 2003; Dweck, 2006).
Dweck and her colleagues conducted a study in 2005 in which one group of adolescents was taught that great math thinkers had a lot of innate ability and natural talent (a fixed-mindset message), while another group was taught that great math thinkers were profoundly interested in and committed to math and worked hard to make their contributions (a growth-mindset message). On a subsequent challenging math test, the girls who had received the fixed mindset message and the stereotype of women under performing in math, did significantly worse than their male counterparts; however, no gender difference occurred among the students who had received the growth-mindset message, even when the stereotype about girls was mentioned before the test (Good & al., 2009).

Stevenson & Stigler (1992) note that, in cultures that produce a large number of math and science graduates, especially women, including South and East Asian cultures, the basis of success is generally attributed less to inherent ability and more to effort.

All this is very interesting, may we think, but in the end, aren’t there still some “natural” differences in the intelligence of men and women? After all,  the greatest geniuses are all men, aren’t they?
Well, no ! Simply, female geniuses are less known, less visible, and sometimes despoiled. I invite you to discover some of them on my other website:

Natural vs cultural image of gender

It is interesting to describe, about the construction of identity through imitation, a study conducted by Sandra and Daryl Bem (1996). They find that children who have a biological definition of gender also have a more stable sense of their gender, because they are not afraid of losing their masculinity or femininity if they have a behavior that is atypical for their gender. Such children should then be less stereotyped in their behavior, more able to resist social influences and pressures that are trying to force them into stereotyped behaviors, and more tolerant of people who do not conform to stereotypes. However, children who identify sex with cultural indicators, like hairstyle and clothes, should have more tendency to be more gender stereotyped.

This idea is confirmed by a study conducted on children of 27 months. They are asked to identify the sex of the people in a brochure, who have conventional clothes for their gender. Children who answer correctly (about half of them), are called “early labelers”. Observation of these children shows that they spend twice more time than others on gender stereotyped toys. Additionally their father defends, more than other children’s father, the idea that boys and girls should have different toys, that they should not see a person of the opposite sex naked, and that they should not have sexual information. They also have more tendencies to avoid their children’s questions about sex and they express more traditional opinions about women. These differences not observed in mothers (Fagot and Leinbach, 1989). These results are consistent with other studies (see “Active learning“), which show that father are more concerned than mothers about gender-stereotyped behavior in their children.

Sandra and Daryl Bem conclude that teaching children early that the genitals determine the sexual gender, should immunize them against an unconditional acceptance of gender roles.

The difference between children educated with and without an organic definition of gender is illustrated by Sandra and Daryl Bem’s own son, Jeremy. He decided one day to wear barrette in preschool. Another boy told him that only girls wear barrette. After he talked with his parents, Jeremy said to the other boy that wearing barrette does nothing, being a boy means having a penis and testicles. The second boy responds then “everyone has a penis, only girls wear barrette”.

It would be interesting to follow the gender development of children who have been on naturist campsites. I have, and, I don’t know if it is related, but, until I’ve been a teenager and started to feel pressured by peers, I was never concerned about proving my sex through my clothes and my behavior.

Is nudity sexual?

If we let children go naked, for example, in the context of vacations, what about adults? Should they be naked like children, so that they know it’s not different? But, isn’t it likely to degenerate into sexual harassment?

In fact, it is clothing that sexualizes nudity, because the only people of the opposite sex that we see naked are those with whom we have sex, or those who are seen in the media in erotic staging. Among hunter-gatherers, nudity is common, without arousing sexual desires. Animals and plants are naked, there is nothing sexual about it. The border between the “decent” and the “indecent” (what is sexual or not), depends precisely on the amount of clothing that one is accustomed to see on others.

Active learning

We learn primarly by building asociations over basic needs. This process is called conditioning. More complexe associations such as symbols, occur later. Stages of child development have been studied by Piaget. In this development, the action of the child on the environment plays en central role.


Classical conditioning is the learning of an association between two stimuli. Operant conditioning is learning of an association between a stimulus and a behavioral response.

Classical conditioning – learning a relation between stimuli

Classical conditioning was described by Pavlov in the beginning of the last century, with researches on dogs: a neutral stimulus, like the sound of a bell, triggers the dog’s attention, or “orientation response”. If the tone is associated with an unconditioned stimulus, food, that provokes an unconditioned response, salivation, after a few times the tone is enough to provoke the salivation. The tone becomes a conditioned stimulus and the salivation becomes a conditioned response also called “conditioned reflex”.

Classical conditioning creates a perception of the world: stimulus of our environment, that are not ignored by habituation (see below), evokes associations with emotions (pleasure, fear, anger…) and appropriate behaviors (approach, avoidance, aggression…), and the relationship between stimulus and our primitive needs is indirect and constructed.

Operant conditioning – learning relation between a stimulus and a behavioral response

Also based on an association of stimulus-response, it’s the person’s behavior that induces appearance of a desired target (or the disappearance of something unpleasant).
These associations are enhanced by repetition. A behavior can also be inhibited by punishment or no reward. A reward seems to be more effective when it is of a social nature (compliments, smiling, esteem, love …).
Operant conditioning models the impact one has on its environment. For example, being successful on a task at school as a result of a hard work, causes the student to maintain or increase this hard work. Congratulation and esteem from other children when a child hits another, encourages him to repeat the same behavior, while he is discouraged in an environment of children who hate violence and exclude him for such behaviors.

In all forms of conditionings, the withdrawal of a conditioned stimulus produces an extinction of the conditioned response.
Stimuli that act as reinforcements, are in the beginning “primary” and common to all individuals, and become more and more deferred: they are reached through indirect reinforcements, special to the history of an individual, social group or culture. For example, money is an indirect reinforcement, as it allows the satisfaction of other needs.
Relationships between stimulus-responses can be generalized to similar stimulus or stimuli that occur simultaneously. They can, on the contrary, be made more specialized, if only one component of a stimulus continues to bring reward or punishment, since similar stimulus that don’t have this component don’t trigger the same event.
Associations become more and more sophisticated, and perceptions and behaviors resulting from previous associations prepares future associations, as a network that develops and stays open.

One question that one can have when reading about behaviorism, what are the primitive needs on which are based all associations?
Studies on motivation suggests some theories on basic needs:
– Physiological needs: experiments on animals in behavioral researchs often uses hunger and pain.
– Social needs: attachment (Bowlby), tenderness (Harlow), affiliation (resulting from “imprinting” described by Konrad Lorenz).
– Cognitive needs: exploration (Butler), manipulation (Harlow), and curiosity that, according to Berlyne, consists of a need for novelty, incongruity, complexity, and conflict.

Habituation and sensitization


We are permanently exposed to a large quantity of information. So, to maintain a cognitive stability (or respect the cognitive development speed), one must be able to discriminate the appropriate stimulus from the constant “background noise” of the environment
Habituation does this: to repeat a stimulus without any kind of reward leads first to a reaction of curiosity (watch the stimulus for example) to more and more indifference, until the stimulus is completely ignored.
Habituation differs from physical fatigue or sensory adaptation because it is a specific response to a stimulus. As conditioned responses, habituation can be generalized or specified, to/from stimulus that have common characteristics.
Habituation can also be switched off:
– If a new stimulus is happening almost simultaneously with others that the subject has been accustomed to.
– If there is a long time before the stimulus happens again.

Habituation is a powerful tool to keep crowd’s inertia. It is used by governments to make people accept unpopular measures (increase in taxes, reduction of compensation …)

Similarly, the degrading image of women in fictions (presented as less intelligent, less courageous than men), repeated systematically, trigger no attention, they become unconscious, therefore their influences over our judgment is difficult to identify and to control.


Sensitization also occurs through the presentation of an attractive stimulus, often enough to be rembered, not often enough to causes habituation.

Sensitization explains how advertising works: a need is created by the display of a product and its benefits. The need can only be satisfied by purchasing the product.

Complex associations

As associations become more complex, generalities emerge. They will base the abstract reasoning, which is accompanied or not by symbols.

According to constructivist theories founded by Jean Piaget, it is the action of the child on his/her environment that will lead her or him to build an increasingly abstract knowledge. By focusing on the child’s action, Piaget implicitly address a critique of the academic way of sharing knowledge, at least for youngest children.

Learning should start from the concrete to the abstract and let the child manipulate objects related to the concepts that she or he has to learn.

This conception of learning had already been formulated a few years earlier by Maria Montessori.

Piaget’s observations of children at different ages allowed him to define the following phases (I use the feminine form to avoid overloading the text of “she/he” or “he/she”):

– From 0 to 2 years old, the child is in the sensorimotor phase: she learns by trial and error the relation between what she does and what she feels (a relation also described above in “operant conditioning”). At the end of this stage, she is aware of “the permanence of the object”: the object continues to exist even if she does not perceive it anymore.
Example: When hiding a toy under a cloth, the 8-month-old baby stops watching it. When a little older, she lifts the clothes to find the toy.

– From 2 to 6-7 years, the child is in the preoperative phase: she learns to speak, so to associate things with symbols. She gradually learns the notions of quantity, space, time, but remains essentially anchored in the immediate experience. She does not see other people point of view as different from hers.
Example: When a 4-year-old child sees the same amount of water poured into vases of different shapes, she says there is more water where she sees the highest water level.

– From 6-7 years old to 11-12 years old, this is the phase of concrete operations: the child is able to learn mathematics. But logical reasoning remains in relation to the concrete.
Compared to the previous example, the child is now able to say that there is actually as much water in each of the vases. But if one makes her build, with cubes, a tower on a narrow surface, which has the same volume as a tower built on a larger surface, she realizes an approximate assembly with erroneous attempts of computations.

– From 11-12 years to 14 years, the child is in the stage of formal operations: she becomes able to reflect on moral and philosophical issues.
The child can build the tower of the previous example by precisely calculating the number of cubes needed to obtain the same volume.

Piaget’s observations were criticized because the child might not understand some of the questions because of a verbal immaturity, not a conceptual one. Experiments by Markman (1979), among others, show that children are able to recognize equalities of quantities despite different spatial arrangements, at an earlier age than that observed by Piaget.

Piaget also notes two distinct processes in learning: assimilation and accommodation. In the first case (assimilation), the subject interprets and retains the information coming from the environment, according to her/his existing knowledge. In the second case, accommodation, the subject questions his/her knowledge and therefore his/her future interpretations, according to the new information provided by the environment.
Accommodation implies a greater mental flexibility.
Existing knowledge thus influences the ability to acquire new knowledge: while respecting a principle of economy of effort, we are more permeable to the acquisition of information that is consistent with what we already know, rather than changing certain beliefs to take account new information.

This phenomenon helps to explain the persistence of prejudices or obsolete academic knowledge by schools and other institutions.
This also explains why we feel that we learn less in adulthood. As a child, the need to adapt in order to know how to survive is obvious. But when we have come to a relatively stable professional and familial situation, this need is less strong, so the natural tendency to minimize effort is prevalent, and we simply assimilate without questioning our patterns of thinking.

The ability to accommodate can however come back when the professional or familial situation is changed, or when we need to adapt to a foreign culture and its language, when we fall in love and we want to make the relationship work, or when we have a special motivation to learn something totally new.

Effect of education on genders

When the baby is born, its nervous system is not very developed. It will grow rapidly according to the first experiences that are presented to him.

Neural network sample of the baby from 0 to 24 months
Neural network sample of the baby from 0 to 24 months

Here is an extract of a book published in 1996 in USA “Hilgard’s introduction to psychology” (12th edition) by Rita L. and Richard C. Atkinson, Edward E. Smith, Daryl J. Bem and Susan Nolen- Hoeksema:

Observations made in the home of preschool children have found that parents reward their daughters for dressing up, dancing, playing with dolls, or simply following them around but criticize them for manipulating objects, running, climbing and jumping. In contrast, parents reward their sons for playing with blocks but criticize them for playing with dolls, asking for help, or even volunteering to be helpful (Fagot, 1978). Parents tend to demand more independence of boys and to have higher expectations of them. They also respond less quickly to boys’ request for help and focus less on the interpersonal aspects of a task. And finally, parents punishes boys both verbally and physically more often than girls (Maccoby et Jacklin, 1974).
Some have suggested that in reacting differently to boys and girls, parents may not be imposing their own stereotypes on them but simply reacting to real innate differences between the behaviors of the two sexes (Maccoby, 1980). (…) But adults approach children with stereotyped expectations that lead them to treat boys and girls differently. For example, adults viewing newborn infants through the window of an hospital nursery believe they can detect sex differences. Infants thought to be boys are described as robust, strong and large featured; identical looking infants thought to be girls are described as delicate, fine featured and “soft” (Luria & Rubin, 1974). In one study, college students viewed a videotape of a 9-month-old infant showing a strong but ambiguous emotional reaction to a jack-in-the-box. The reaction was more often labeled as “anger” when the child was thought to be a boy, and “fear” when the same infant was thought to be a girl (Condry & Condry, 1976). When an infant was called David in another study, “he” was actually treated more roughly by subjects than when the same infant was called Lisa (Bern, Martina & Watson, 1976).
Fathers appear to be more concerned with sex-typed behaviors than mothers, particularly with their sons. They tend to react more negatively than mothers (interfering with the child’s play or expressing disapproval) when their sons play with “feminine” toys. Fathers are less concerned when their daughters engage in “masculine” play, but they still show more disapproval than mothers do (Langlois & Downs, 1980).
But if parents and other adults treat children in sex-stereotyped ways, children themselves are the real “sexists”. Peers enforce sex-stereotyping much more severely than parents. Indeed, parents who consciously seek to raise their children without the traditional sex-role stereotypes – by encouraging the child to engage in a wide range of activities without labeling any activity as masculine or feminine or by playing nontraditional roles within the home – are often dismayed to find their efforts undermined by peer pressure. Boys, in particular, criticize other boys when they see them engaged in “girls” activities. They are quick to call another boy a sissy if he plays with dolls, cries when he’s hurt, or shows tender concern toward another child in distress. In contrast, girls seem not to object to other girls playing with “boys” toys or engaging in masculine activities (Longlois & Down, 1980).
This points up a general phenomenon: the taboos in our culture against feminine behavior for boys are stronger than those against masculine behavior in girls. Four and five years old boys are more likely to experiment with feminine toys and activities (such as dolls, a lipstick and mirror, hair ribbons) when no one is watching than when an adult or another boy is present (Kobasigawa, Arakaki & Awiguni, 1966; Hartup & Moore, 1963).

Boy toys
Girl toys

“Le Monde Diplomatique” presents a series of studies published in the issue “Femmes, le mal genre?”(“Women, the bad gender?”) From the collection “Manière de voir” (“Way of seeing”), March-April 1999. An article by Ingrid Carlander “An irrational fear of science” (“Une peur irraisonnée des sciences”), reports hidden camera observations that reveal that science teachers spend around 20% more time with boys. Girls are less questioned and are more frequently interrupted. Teachers encourage girls for their good behavior and the cleanliness of their copy, and boys for the relevance of their arguments.

Other observations performed in schools, reported by Aebischer in 1991, shows that teachers are asking for more participation to boys than girls (Guibert, 1987; Valabrègue, 1989), rely more on them in science and technology (Marques, 1990), talk more to them (Milner, 1989) and show more interest in what they do.

Advertising from a Swedish shop: a boy among all kinds of toys
Advertising from a Swedish shop: a boy among all kinds of toys