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Sex Differences in Mothers' Speech and Play Behavior with 6-, 9-, and 14-Month-Old Infants


In this study, we analyzed mothers' speech and play behavior with their 6-, 9-, and 14-month-old sons and daughters. Thirty-six infant–mother dyads participated in a 10-min free-play session with gender-neutral toys. No sex differences were found in the infants' behavior, but sex differences were found in mothers' verbal behavior and level of engagement. Mothers of daughters made more interpretations and engaged in more conversation with their daughters, whereas mothers of sons made more comments and attentionals, which were typified by instructions rather than conversation. Furthermore, mothers interacted more with their daughters than with their sons across all ages. Overall, these results demonstrate that mothers transmit different messages to their male and female infants, both through language and interaction, which may contribute to infants' gender role development.

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Correspondence to Melissa W. Clearfield.

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Clearfield, M.W., Nelson, N.M. Sex Differences in Mothers' Speech and Play Behavior with 6-, 9-, and 14-Month-Old Infants. Sex Roles 54, 127–137 (2006).

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Key Words

  • gender socialization
  • infant development
  • infant gender
  • play
  • parent–infant interaction