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 ...
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