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Barbu, S. et al. (2011) Boys and girls on the playground: sex differences in social development are not stable across early childhood (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Sex differences in human social behaviors and abilities have long been a question of public and scientific interest. Females are usually assumed to be more socially oriented and skillful than males. However, despite an extensive literature, the very existence of sex differences remains a matter of discussion while some studies found no sex differences whereas others reported differences that were either congruent or not with gender stereotypes. Moreover, the magnitude, consistency and stability across time of the differences remain an open question, especially during childhood. As play provides an excellent window into children's social development, we investigated whether and how sex differences change in social play across early childhood. Following a cross-sectional design, 164 children aged from 2 to 6 years old, divided into four age groups, were observed during outdoor free play at nursery school. We showed that sex differences are not stable over time evidencing a developmental gap between girls and boys. Social and structured forms of play emerge systematically earlier in girls than in boys leading to subsequent sex differences in favor of girls at some ages, successively in associative play at 3-4 years, cooperative play at 4-5 years, and social interactions with peers at 5-6 years. Preschool boys also display more solitary play than preschool girls, especially when young. Nevertheless, while boys catch up and girls move on towards more complex play, sex differences in social play patterns are reversed in favor of boys at the following ages, such as in associative play at 4-5 years and cooperative play at 5-6 years. This developmental perspective contributes to resolve apparent discrepancies between single-snapshot studies. A better understanding of the dynamics of sex differences in typical social development should also provide insights into atypical social developments which exhibit sex differences in prevalence, such as autism.

Date:
January 2011
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
6
Page/s:
e16407
Synonyms:
  • Cooperative play
  • Cross-sectional
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Free play
  • Parallel play
  • Peers play
  • Social play
  • Social-emotional
  • Solitary play
Research discipline: