Childrens Responses to Provocation by Same and Other Gender Peers

Although the majority of children's peer interactions during middle childhood are with same-gender peers, "we must not fall into the error of assuming that spontaneous, cross-sex contact is absent in the school-age years" (Maccoby, 1994, p. 87). Children in the early elementary years play in mixed gender groups about 25% of the time (Crombie & DesJardins, 1993; Maccoby & Jacklin, 1987). In light of claims that boys and girls inhabit different cultures in middle childhood (Maccoby, 1990; Thorne & Luria, 1986) and that gender segregation may contribute to later difficulties in other-gender relationships in the home and in the workplace (Maccoby, 1998; Thorne & Luria, 1986), it is important to learn more about how children behave in these not infrequent other-gender encounters. How do boys and girls behave together in emotion-provoking situations, given their different play styles, preferences for different activities, and strong identities as part of their same-gender groups?

Using identical methods as in the study just described, we compared children's responses to provocation by same- and other-gender peers (Underwood, Schockner, & Hurley, 2001). Previous research suggests three possibilities for how children might respond to provocation by other gender peers as compared to same gender peers. The both genders less interactive/more negative hypothesis suggests that both girls and boys behave less positively when interacting with a peer of the other gender. This hypothesis is supported by research with preschool samples (Fagot, 1985; Jacklin & Maccoby, 1978; Serbin et al., 1994), and the fact that girls and boys have fairly strong same gender peer preferences during the middle childhood years (Serbin, Powlishta, & Gulko, 1993). The girls and boys express emotions more similarly hypothesis fits with studies with young children showing that in other gender encounters, girls' emotional expressions become more like those of boys, and vice versa (for example, Leaper, 1991). The girls express emotions more like boys hypothesis is supported by previous research showing that boys are more direct and competitive in resolving conflicts regardless of the gender of the partner, whereas girls become more forceful when they interact with boys than when they interact with other girls (Miller et al., 1986 ; Moely, Skarin, & Weil, 1979).

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