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Sex differences in social play: developmental trends in early childhood

Abstract : Sex differences in play represent one of the largest non-reproductive physical or psychological sex differences and have been widely observed across taxa and cultures. Several aspects of play – including toys and activities, playmates’ sex, and play styles – differ between males and females in various animal species, including humans. In early childhood, boys’ and girls’ play styles are characterized by different behaviors and patterns of social interaction. Girls’ play is assumed to be more social, cooperative, structured and adult oriented than boys’ play. However, there is a notable lack of developmental studies in order to track whether and how sex differences change over time. The present study focuses on age and sex differences in social play by 2- to 6- year old children, when most children begin to experience peer social interactions. Crosssectional observations of social participation of 164 children from 16 classrooms in three French nursery schools were made during outdoor free play periods. The sample, ages ranging from 29 months to 74 months, was divided into four age groups corresponding to nursery school grades, with balanced sex-ratio in each group. Our results showed that, for both sexes, social play increased over time, while solitary play decreased. Although no sex differences were found in social play and interaction with peers, girls were systematically one year ahead of boys, and this induced successive sex differences in associative play, cooperative play and social interactions at some ages. Moreover, boys played solitarily more frequently than girls, especially when young. Finally, time spent interacting with adults also decreased over time for both sexes with no sex differences, even though the youngest girls spent twice as much time with adults as boys. Thus, important changes were found in social and solitary play during early childhood with a developmental gap between girls and boys. Our findings emphasize the need for developmental studies both in humans and animals in order to resolve conflicting results across single snapshot studies.
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Submitted on : Friday, August 19, 2016 - 2:36:43 PM
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  • HAL Id : hal-01354778, version 1


Stéphanie Barbu, Alban Lemasson, Gaïd Le Maner-Idrissi, Guénaël Cabanes. Sex differences in social play: developmental trends in early childhood. Behavior 2009 - 31st International Ethological Conference, International Ethological Conference (IEC) and University of Rennes 1, Aug 2009, Rennes, France. ⟨hal-01354778⟩



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