A second dimension of the argument is identified in this study, in that Kolbe and Muehling refer to research by Bandura, Eisenstock and Barkley et al. (1977). These established studies indicated that the gender-appropriateness of the observed behaviour is the most critical dimension in predicting how children respond to the role-portrayals presented to them. The basic findings of these researchers indicates that children imitate the play-behaviour that is appropriate to their gender, regardless of the gender of the model. Best et al. 1977) demonstrated that girls have a greater tendency to engage in cross-gender ehaviour than boys do. It is arguable, none the less, that there is an element of social risk involved for both boys and girls who wish to adopt opposite-gender behaviour, particularly as they grow older and allegiance to their own gender becomes socially more important. One of the main questions addressed in this study is whether or not the gender of the person appearing in an advertisement has an affect on the way in which children evaluate the product.
Kolbe and Muehling basically question whether children’s evaluations of an advertised product are differentially affected by he non-traditional (counter-stereotyped) role portrayal in an advertisement (such as a girl playing with a ‘boy’s’ toy) versus a more traditional role portrayal. Their study also includes the potential effects of role portrayals on children’s evaluations of the actual advertisement. Huston et al. 1984) studied children in grades 1-6 in order to determine whether they could make judgements about specific production features (action, music and camera techniques), in the context of whether a particular style was more appropriate for one sex over another. In a sense, this exercise was similar to one of my own field work studies, in which I played videos of advertisements to small groups of children in my target primary school, to encourage them to make judgements about the nature of production techniques such as pacing, music and the use of voices, as well as their judgements about the intended target audience of the advertisement.
Huston et al. wished to determine whether children are able to attribute particular production features such as loud music, rapid movement, rapid camera angles and so on to advertisements for masculine’ toys, with the opposite production techniques true of advertisements for ‘feminine’ toys. The theory is that children are able to use these subtle cues in advertisements in order to make gender-appropriateness judgements. The question, which is largely neglected in most studies of this kind, must surely concern the point at which children begin to make associations between production style and gender-appropriateness.
Indeed, Huston et al. found that the younger children in their study often needed to be ‘primed’ or ‘focused’ in order to attend to these cues, because they found that a child’s normal ‘ iewing mode’ tended to give more attention to advertisement content (the selling message) rather than the form of delivery (the advertisement characteristics). When, therefore, do children become aware of gender portrayals, role-models and stereotypes. Kolbe and Muehling then move on to consider whether or not children recognise the gender of the person serving as the off-screen announcer (or voice-over).
If the children do recognise the voice-over type, the question must then be whether or not this recognition and subsequent judgement affects the evaluation of the product and/or the Firstly, which also forms an element of my own research, Kolbe and Muehling wished to ascertain whether children felt the toy was a preferred play object for ‘boys’, ‘girls’ or ‘boys and girls’. Their results suggest that there were definite shifts in appropriateness judgements, mainly among male subjects.
The main point to emerge was that those boys who viewed the ‘female actor’ advertisements were more likely to indicate that the toy was appropriate for both genders than those boys who saw the ‘male actor’ advertisements, in which case the toy was seen as a ‘boys only’ play object. The magnitude of change in terms of gender judgements made by girls was not as great as those made by boys. Exposure to ‘female actor’ advertisements, for example, tended to make the girls less inclined to believe that the toy was appropriate for ‘boys only’.
Effects of Voice-over Gender on Advertisement and Product Evaluations Kolbe and Muehling found that not all children correctly identified the gender of the adult announcer (only 74% made the correct identification). When children incorrectly identified the gender of the adult announcer, they tended to assume that the female announcer was male. Perhaps the predominance of male voice-overs generally means than most children will assume that the voice is male rather than female; the power of expectation and convention over-riding actuality, to the point where the audience becomes presumptive.
Indeed, the pattern of incorrect voice-over gender identification was found to be the case for both boys and girls in this study. In terms of product evaluation, Kolbe and Muehling found no significant differences, except in the way that a male voice-over tended to result in a more favourable response to the advertisement and the product. Similar attitudes are echoed in my own work with children, in that the prevailing mentality was that ‘boys toys are best’.
The questions addressed in this study have raised the issue of whether children see and internalise gender-role information in television advertisements. The preliminary results seem to suggest that children will generally process this information. It was found that the majority of the children involved in the study were aware of the gender of the actor appearing in the advertisement and made subsequent judgements which reflected the processing of the gender-role portrayal.