A new study published on April 14 in the journal BMC Psychology reveals that gender stereotyping can start as young as three months, with adults basing femininity and masculinity to babies based on the pitch of their cries.

Apparently, a baby boy will be thought of as less masculine if adults think their cries sound high-pitched and a baby girl as less feminine if their cries are lower-pitched despite having no scientific evidence that shows children actually have different voice pitch before hitting puberty.

The researchers from the University of Sussex, the University of Lyon/Saint-Etienne, and Hunter College City University of New York add that many adult men believe that higher pitched cries indicate more intense discomfort so they would think that boy babies are more distressed if their cries are as high as girl babies. Since they believe that girl babies are supposed to have high pitch cries, these men will overlook these babies even if they are suffering from intense discomfort.

The study involved recording the spontaneous cries of 15 boys and 13 girls. They also altered the pitch of the cries without altering other aspects and played these to a group of adults consisting of parents and non-parents. They also found that men are more uncomfortable hearing a baby boy cry.

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A baby boy with a high-pitched cry will be thought of as less masculine. Credit: Pixabay/TaniaVdB

“There is already widespread evidence that gender stereotypes influence parental behaviour but this is the first time we have seen it occur in relation to babies’ cries,” says David Reby from the Psychology School at the University of Sussex. “We now plan to investigate if such stereotypical attributions affect the way babies are treated and whether parents inadvertently choose different clothes, toys, and activities based on the pitch of their babies’ cries.”

Nicolas Mathevon from the University of Lyon/Saint-Etienne & Hunter College CUNY concluded on this matter. “This research shows that we tend to wrongly attribute what we know about adults – that men have lower pitched voices than women – to babies when in fact the pitch of children’s voices does not differ between sexes until puberty. The potential implications for parent-child interactions and for the development of children’s gender identity are fascinating and we intend to look into this further.”