Gender-Typed Play and Social Abilities in Boys and Girls: Are They Related?

Abstract

In the present study, we tested whether children’s play with feminine toys is related to social abilities in which girls typically excel. We measured gender-typed toy play, empathy, and comforting skill in 80 Grade 1 children (about 6 years-old) in Hong Kong, China. Toy play was assessed with a standard observational paradigm; empathy, with the Empathy Quotient-Child Questionnaire; and comforting skill, with an infant-cry paradigm requiring the generation of comforting strategies. As predicted, boys and girls differed in their preferences for play with masculine and feminine toys, but not for gender-neutral toys. Importantly, toy play was related to comforting skill. Girls scored higher on the comforting task, and girls who played more with feminine toys and boys who played more with gender-neutral toys generated more comforting strategies. Regression and mediational analyses also suggested a stronger role of gender-typed play on comforting than the other way round. Contrary to hypothesis, there was no gender difference in empathy, and no relationship between empathy and toy play. These results extend previous understandings of the link between play and development and suggest that early gender-typed experiences may have long-term consequences for the development of some social skills.

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Acknowledgments

This research was conducted in partial satisfaction for a postgraduate thesis in Psychology by the first author. The authors thank Terry Kit-fong Au for her comments on an earlier version of this manuscript

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Li, R.Y.H., Wong, W.I. Gender-Typed Play and Social Abilities in Boys and Girls: Are They Related?. Sex Roles 74, 399–410 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0580-7

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Keywords

  • Gender differences
  • Gender-typed play
  • Toys
  • Gender socialization
  • Social skills