Random browsing can take you to some weird places. After stumbling on an excellent blog about the nuts-and-bolts of science, I stumbled on an article about statistical power.

when i hear people push back against the call for larger samples because they are sticking up for people who use hard-to-collect data, i scratch my head.  those people are exactly why i think we absolutely need to increase the sample size of typical social/personality studies.  if some of our colleagues are busting their asses measuring cortisol four times a day for weeks, or coding couples’ behavior as they discuss marital problems, and even they can get samples of 100 or 200, then the least the rest of us can do is get a couple hundred undergrads to come to our labs for an hour.

[nodding along in agreement]

kristina olson studies gender nonconformity and transgender children’s development (among other things).  this research is almost guaranteed to lead to important insights about the development of identity, gender stereotypes, and of course the understudied population of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals.  but recruiting a sample of transgender children, and following them over time, is hard.

Wait, what? Gender identity among children is a hot topic in TERF circles. Remember this hot mess of a petition? Here’s a line I neglected:

Most troubling, by persuading parents and health professionals to diagnose children as young as four as transgender, despite considerable research that shows that more than 90 percent of children who express “gender dysphoria” at a young age grow out of it by adolescence and, in most cases, grow up to be well-adjusted gay men and women

To be fair to TERFs, socialization is a much stronger hypothesis than biological innateness, given how readily we soak in gender cues. So it’ll take solid evidence to show gender identity is a thing, especially at the childhood level.

Olson’s study gathered up 32 kids living as trans* boys or girls, aged 5 to 12; matched them with 32 controls, and added 18 siblings to check for environmental influence; then issued a battery of conscious and subconscious tests of gender.

On both more-controllable self-report measures and less-controllable implicit measures, our group of transgender children showed a clear indication that they thought of themselves in terms of their expressed gender. Their responses were indistinguishable from those of the two cisgender control groups, when matched by gender identity. They showed a clear preference for peers and objects endorsed by peers who shared their expressed gender, an explicit and implicit identity that aligned with their expressed gender, and a strong implicit preference for their expressed gender. While future studies are always needed, our results support the notion that transgender children are not confused, delayed, showing gender-atypical responding, pretending, or oppositional — they instead show responses entirely typical and expected for children with their gender identity.[1]

While this study loses points for invoking p-values, the confidence intervals and effects sizes are robust enough to stand on their own; I pooled the effects listed in the paper for all but the explicit gender identity test, adjusted the signs to match the charts (positive = less confident than baseline), and got d = -0.024 (S.E. 0.097) when these kids’ explicit gender identity is respected. It’s a solid result, and more data is on the way.

their team is currently expanding this dataset, aiming for 200+ socially transitioned transgender kids, some gender nonconforming kids, a matched control for each kid, and a sibling control when possible.  their total sample size will likely be around 750, and they’re well on their way. they have families from 22 different states, and their waitlist includes families from 17 more states.

wait, it gets better.  in addition to recruiting this incredible sample, they plan to follow them longitudinally, assess them in person every 2-3 years, and conduct questionnaire and interview measures more regularly.


[1] Olson, Kristina R., Aidan C. Key, and Nicholas R. Eaton. “Gender Cognition in Transgender Children.” Psychological Science 26, no. 4 (April 1, 2015): 467–74. doi:10.1177/0956797614568156.