Gender and Relationship of Children
By: Your Name Here
For: Professor name here
The topic of sex differences in the play preschoolers has been explored
by many researchers in the past. Studies have been conducted on basic sex
differences such as what toys and gender of playmates do young boys and girls
prefer. The size of children's play networks, as well as if these networks
change in the size during the preschool years have been explored. Also,
differences in styles of play and the occurrence of positive and negative
interactions have been examined. The effect that parents have on their sons and
daughters, as well as preschool classrooms and teachers have been examined as
possible causes of sex differences during play.
The aim of this paper is to critically review the recent literature in
this field and determine whether or not sex differences occur in play. If sex
differences occur, the possible reasons for this occurrence will also be
Review of the Research Section
Maccoby (1990) summarized a number of studies to support her hypothesis
that suggests different social situations may either heighten or suppress sex
differences in behaviour.
One study was that of social interaction between pairs of young children
(Jacklin & Maccoby, 1978). Pairs of 33-month old children were brought together
in the same-sex or mixed-sex in a laboratory playroom, and the amount and kind
of social behaviour directed more social behaviour, both positive and negative,
to same sex playmates that opposite sex ones. Girls paired with boys were more
likely to stand watching their partners, or withdraw towards an adult, than boys
in any pairing or girls playing with girls. The point brought up in this study
is that interactive behaviour is not just situationly specific, it also depends
on the gender of participants.
Some of the reasons given by Maccoby (1990) for attraction to same sex
partners and avoidance of other sex partners in childhood are the rough play
style of boys and their orientation towards competition and dominance. Another
reason is that girls find it difficult to influence boys. An example of such
reasoning is supported by a study done by Poulishta (1987). Preschool aged boy-
girl pairs were observed competing for an object. The children were given a
chance to use a movie-viewer that could only be used by one child at a time. It
seemed while pairs were alone in the playroom the boys dominated the movie-
viewer. When an adult was present, however, this did not occur, The adult's
presence seemed to inhibit the boy's more power assertive techniques resulting
in equal access. This supports the reason why the attraction to same sex
partners and avoidance of other sex partners in childhood are so strong and also
why girls may also stay nearer to an adult while in a mixed pair.
Black (1989) conducted a study to distinguish between representational
and social pretend play behaviours that are a function of the sex and age of the
players. Black (1989), hypothesised that social skills differ by sex whereas
representational skills differ by age, and the skills related to choice of play
topics are related to age and sex. This study videotaped 52 preschoolers and
later analyzed the videotapes to test hypotheses. Upon analysis, the hypotheses,
was confirmed. Social skills were found to differ as a function of sex. Props
were given to the children to use in their pretend play. It was found that
older girls and younger boys play themes were more likely connected to the props
than the older boys. The older boys preferred more creative topics. Another
sex difference was that girls used more conversation for planning than boys did.
This may have caused less misinterpretations for the play among the girls.
Finally, it was found that boys were much more likely to engage in solitary play
A second study investigated the relationship between sex role
flexibility and prosocial behaviour among preschool children (Doescher, &
Sugawara, 1990). Prosocial behaviour are acts that help another person, such as
cooperating, sharing, and helping. This study examined how the variables of
preschool children's sex, age, IQ, and sex role flexibility contributed to their
prosocial behaviour. It was found that sex role flexibility was positively
related to boys' prosocial behaviour, but no such relationship was found among
girls. This could have resulted because possibly when boys take on more
flexible sex role characteristics, they are freer to express prosocial behaviour
which is in contrast to the sex role stereotype of females. When the girls
adopt more flexible sex role characteristics, they would not have as great an
impact because girls have already developed these prosocial skills.
Benenson (1993), designed a study which examined sex differences in
children's preference for a dyadic and group interaction in preschoolers. Two
experiments were conducted, each using puppets. Puppets were chosen instead of
a doll so that it would appeal to both females and males. In the first
experiment, children between 4 and 5 years of age interacted with a female
puppeteer using 1 (dyad) and 3 (group) puppets. Enjoyment of this interaction
was measured by smiling and eye contact. The second experiment replicated the
puppet interaction, except the content and order or presentation of the puppets
was controlled. The subjects in both cases were children from a nursery school
in the Boston area, who came from middle-class families. Evidence was found in
both studies that females preferred dyadic interaction more than males. Some
evidence was found that males preferred group interaction more than females and
that males form larger play groups than females.
It appears that in the play networks of both boys and girls may undergo
transformations in size after 5 years of age. Benenson (1994) conducted a study
to examine this possibility. It was hypothesized that between 4 and 6 years,
the size of boys' play groups increased, while the size of girls' play groups
decreased. Results from the study did not confirm the hypothesis for boys, but
did support the hypothesis for girls. The number of girls excluded from play
groups increased significantly between the ages of 4 and 6. One possibility for
these results is that girls have a preference for less stimulation and are not
as active as boys. This could be self disclosure.
The effect that mothers and fathers have on their preschool children was
studied by (Idle, Wood, and Desmarais, 1993). The interaction between 20 intact
families was observed. Parents were first asked to complete a toy desirability
scale. It was found that parents believed that neutral toys are not specific to
the gender of the child while feminine toys were preferred for girls and
masculine toys preferred for boys. However, this was not the case when the same
parents were actively engaged in play with their child. It was observed that in
general, parents spent the least amount of time with feminine toys. These
results were true regardless of the gender of the parent or the child. It was
found that children accepted most of the toys presented to by their parents and
that their enthusiasm was equal for toys in all three categories.
Turner, Gerval, and Hinde (1993), conducted a study in both Cambridge
(UK) and Budapest (Hungary). The children were interviewed to assess toy
preference, awareness of stereotypes and sex-role preference. The children were
also observed during free play at school. The behaviours observed included
activities, playing with toys, sex of playmates, and social interactions with
peers and teachers. It was found that girls liked female-typical toys, and
showed more female typical behaviour than boys, and vise-versa. It was also
observed that boys liked "sex-appropriate" toys more, and "sex-inappropriate"
toys less than girls. Girls, however, were less stereotyped than boys in their
toy and sex-role preference. In both cultures children were more frequently
observed next to members of their own sex. However, the presence or adults
reduce pressure to associate with one's own sex. This was shown when boys were
near their teachers, the less they played exclusively with boys. When the two
samples were compared, there were no significant differences in toy, sex-role,
or playmate preference, but Budapest children were significantly more masculine
and less feminine on the behavioral measures.
The nature of gender differences in 4-year olds was researched by Hinde,
Tamplin and Barrett (1993). The results of this study showed that individual
characteristics and behaviour differed in a number of ways between boys and
Children prefer same-mixed playmates starting at a very young age
(Maccoby & Jacklin, 1987, cited in Alexander & Hines, 1994). Explanations for
this could include play styles of playmates and the gender of playmates. This
was examined in the study conducted by Alexander and Hines (1994). An interview
was conducted and when gender labels and play styles were presented as
independent dimensions, children showed sex differences for gender labels and
play styles. Boys were found to be more active, played rougher, and proffered
toys such as construction and transportation toys while girls preferred dolls.
When gender labels and play styles were presented as competing dimensions, boys
chose female targets with stereotypical masculine play styles over male targets
with feminine play styles. Preschool girls chose female targets with masculine
play styles, whereas older girls chose male targets with feminine play styles.
Pellegrini and Perimutter (1989), examined the effects of age, sex and
context of preschool classrooms on children's play. The subjects were children
aged 3-5 years. The subjects were observed in three different play areas: art
(drawing, pasting, and painting), replica (wearing dress-up clothes, playing
with kitchen equipment, and playing store), and playing with blocks. It was
found that children engaged in solitary play in the blocks and art areas and
engaged in interactive play in the replica area. Boys were found to use the
blocks area more frequently, and girls used the art areas more frequently, while
both boys and girls played with the replica toys the same. Another finding was
that as girls get older, their play seems to follow sex role expectations more,
in that older girls' play in the blocks area (male oriented) was less advances
than the younger girls' play there.
Summary and Comparison of the Research Section
All of the reviewed literature agreed in finding sex differences in
preschoolers. Sex differences in play occurred in a variety of ways including
the toys they preferred, the activity level, and the roughness of the play
(Alexander & Hines, 1994). Generally, children prefer same-sex playmates over
the opposite sex (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1987, cited in Alexander & Hines, 1994).
The same finding was observed by Turner, et al., (1993). It was discovered,
however, that boys preferred females with masculine play styles over boys with
feminine play styles. Young girls preferred females with masculine play styles,
while older girls chose male targets with feminine play styles (Alexander &
Hines, 1994). This was determined by evaluating the children using an interview
Play styles differed between sexes even when children were pretending.
Older boys were found to be more creative in pretending and didn't connect this
play to props as much as girls or younger boys did (Black, 1989). Pellegrini
and Perimutter (1989), found that both preschool boys and girls equally enjoyed
Benenson (1993), found that girls prefer dyadic interaction more than
boys, and further research found that the size of girls play groups decreased in
size between the ages of 4 and 6 (Benenson, 1994). Black (1989) found that boys
were more likely to engage in solitary play than girls, while Benenson (1993)
found some evidence that males proffered group interaction more than females.
There were many sex differences when children's play with toys was
observed. Pellegrini and Perimutter (1989), found that boys preferred to play
with blocks, while girls played in art areas more frequently than boys. Girls
prefer female-typical toys more than boys and vise versa (Turner, et al., 1993).
Also, boys liked "sex-appropriate" toys more and "sex-inappropriate" toys less
than girls. A possible explanation for this is that when parents are playing
with their children, it was found that they spent the least amount of time with
feminine toys, regardless of the gender of the parent or child (Idle, et al.,
Boys were observed mixing positive and negative interactions more
frequently than girls (Hinde et al., 1993). It was also discovered, that sex
role flexibility was positively related to boys' prosocial behaviour (Doescher &
Sugawara, 1990). Both cases agree that these findings probably resulted due to
the fact that adults tend to treat girls and boys differently and that this is
probably contributes to differences in gender development.
According to recent literature, many sec differences occur in play in
preschoolers. Sex differences occur in many different aspects of play. For
example, the size of the groups that children play in differs with a function of
sex (Benenson, 1993). This study found that girls prefer dyadic interaction,
but fails to find out why this was the case. One possible reason for this is
that because males generally have a grater activity level, this dyadic
interaction is less interesting for them than for females. Also, the puppeteers
in this study were female. Future research should be conducted to determine the
effects of the puppeteer. More studies should also be conducted to determine if
this sex difference is genetic, or learned. Possibly this could be done by
conducting more cross-cultural studies involving cultures different from our own.
Preschoolers play with toys also contains sex differences (Turner, et
al., 1993). These sex differences seem to originate form the child learning
stereotypes from society. Children simply learn to like certain "sex-
appropriate" toys, because they are exposed to them and encouraged to play with
them more often. According to one study (Idle, et al., 1993), children accepted
most toys presented to them by their parents regardless if they were "sex-
appropriate" or not.
Preschoolers also show sex differences in their behaviour during play.
Black (1989), found that boys preferred more creative topics than girls pretend
play and girls used more conversation for planning than boys. One possible
explanation for this is if males found pretend play to be easy, they did not
converse with each other to understand what was going on. Future studies
examine this more closely to try to determine why these sex differences occur.
In a cross-cultural study, it was found that children preferred to play
with members of their own sex. (Turner, et al., 1993). The presence of adults
may reduce this pressure to associate with own's own sex. This may occur
because the adults may pressure the child to associate with the opposite sex, to
the child has learned that adults find it acceptable to interact with members of
the same sex. It seems that the largest factor why children prefer members of
the same sex is because their behaviour is similar. Alexander and Hines (1994),
discovered that boys chose female targets with stereotypical masculine play
styles over male targets with feminine play styles, and girls chose male targets
with feminine play styles. This probably occurs because if one child's play
style is similar to another's, that child will be more interested and will want
to interact with that child much greater than if their play styles differ.
It seems that in many cases sex differences in play in preschoolers are
a result of learned behaviours. Our society seems to play a large role in
determining gender differences because children are encourages to act according
to male of female stereotypes. More studies, especially cross-cultural ones
should be conducted to try to determine why these sex differences occur, because
as of now, no single theory can account completely for childrens's sex
differences in play.
Alexander, G.M., & Hines, M. (1994). Gender labels and play styles: Their
relative contribution to children's selection of playmates. Child Development,
Benebson, J.F. (1994). Ages four to six years: Changes in the structure of play
networks of girls and boys. Merril-Palmer Quarterly, 40, 479-487.
Benenson, J.F. (1993). Greater preference among females than males for dyadic
interaction in earily childhood. Child Development, 64. 544-555.
Black, B. (1989). Interactive Pretense: Social and symbolic skills in preschool
play groups. Meril-Palmer Quarterly, 35, 379-394.
Doescher, S.M., & Sugawara, A.I. (1990). Sex role flexability and prosocial
behavior among preschool children. Sex Roles, 22, 111-123.
Hinde, R.A., Tamplin, A.,& Barrett, J. (1993). Gender differences in the
correlates of preschoolers' behavior. Sex Roles, 28, 607-622
Jacklin, C.N., & Maccoby, E.E (1977). Social behavior at 33 months in same sex
and mixed sex dyads. Child Development, 49, 557-569.
Maccoby, E.E. (1990). Gender and relationships: A developmental account.
American Psychologist, 45, 513-520.
Idle,.T.,Wood, E. Desmarals, S. (1993). Gender role socialization in toy play
situations: Mothers and Fathers with their sons and daughters. Sex Roles, 28,
Pellegrini, A.D. Perlmutter, J.C. (1989). Classroom contextual effects on
children's play. Developmental Psychology, 25, 289-296.
Turner, P.J.,Gerval, J. Hinde, R.A. (1993). Gender-typing in young children:
Preference, behavior and cultural differences. British Journal of Develepmental
Psychology, 11, 323-342.
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