A new study suggests that Disney Princesses and the messages they promote may influence gender-stereotypical behavior for young girls.
Brigham Young University family life professor Sarah M. Coyne conducted a study with 198 preschoolers, both male and female, to rank their interaction with Disney Princess culture -- including toys and movies -- and how that affected their behavior one year later with reports from parents and teachers.
"I study the effect of media and people tend to either disbelieve or are threatened when we do research that shows that media has an effect on them or their children," Coyne told The Huffington Post. "Most people label Disney Princesses as very safe, so this is likely the first time that individuals may have even considered there is a less than 'magical' side to the franchise."
According to the study, 96 percent of girls and 87 percent of boys viewed Disney Princess media. Four percent of boys and 61 percent of girls played with Disney Princesses on a weekly basis.
For both boys and girls, greater interactions with princesses predicted more gender-normative behavior -- like wanting to play with traditional female stereotypical toys and activities (e.g., dolls, tea sets, playing house), and behaviors (e.g., avoiding getting dirty, avoiding taking risks) -- but the results were quite disparate.
For girls, it can negatively impact their body image and educational experiences, making them less likely to gravitate towards math and science. But "the boys in the study who engaged with Disney Princess media had better body esteem and were more helpful to others."
Coyne suggests a happy medium.
“I’d say, have moderation in all things,” she said. “Have your kids involved in all sorts of activities, and just have princesses be one of many, many things that they like to do and engage with.”
Coyne delivered a speech on body image May 31 at BYU, emphasizing the physical distortions of the media and how this "thin ideal" impacts young girls.
"I believe there is too much appearance-based talk with our young girls and not enough focusing on their true royal identity."