July 1, 2008

Spot the Difference


SHOWING young boys and girls can play happily together, are three- year-olds Holly Dixon and Conrad Sharp at Wellington's Kids Environment creche.

A United States study has found that in play, young girls are as competitive as boys -- they are just more subtle about it.

Boys use aggression to get what they want; girls rely on delicate tactics such as building alliances.

To test differences in how young children compete, US scientists divided 87 preschoolers into same-sex groups of three. Each trio received either one, two or three animal toys.

The groups behaved the same way when there were two or three toys to go round.

But gender differences were laid bare when there was just one toy for each group, New Scientist reported.

Boys would ask for the toy, make a grab at it, or even chase the child who had it.

Girls punished the toy holder by excluding her from their group, whispering behind her back or hiding it from her.

The results came as no surprise to Otago University senior psychology lecturer Tamar Murachver. Her work also showed young boys favoured direct action such as grabbing, while girls used indirect methods such as pulling faces, social exclusion and reverse psychology.

Creche head teacher Christina Rizos said she saw those behaviours every day, but also felt character and personality played a part. "We shouldn't forget that everyone's an individual."

With males making up just 1 per cent of preschool teachers, there was a lack of positive role models for young boys outside their homes, Dr Murachver said.

As boys grew older, they learned that aggressive tactics such as grabbing, chasing and punching were not acceptable, so moved on to more subtle means.


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