The social learning theory specifies that if children receive positive reinforcement for emotions and behaviors, they are motivated to continue to display them. If they receive punishment or other indicators of disapproval, they are more motivated to stop that behavior or not show the emotion (Newman & Newman, 2016). In terms of gender development, children receive praise if they engage in culturally appropriate gender displays and punishment if they do not. Thus, by observing the environment and modeling behavior, they develop their gender schema (Helgeson, 2017). These differences can be observed in everyday encounters.
At the playground, children were observed as they played. For the observation, I focused on two groups of children. The first was of two girls about five years of age and the second group included three boys between the ages of six and eight years of age. These groups are characteristic of play preferences in children in western cultures. By the age of three girls prefer playing with the same sex and by age four boys prefer to play with their same sex. In fact, boys demonstrate a stronger same sex preference than girls do (Helgeson, 2017). These preferences are due to differences in play styles and communication, girls finding it hard to influence boys, and the support from adults for same sex play.
During the observation, the girls played in the sand with buckets, shovels, and fictional character figurines and the boys ran around the climbing equipment playing chase. These choices are typical of genders because girls typically play in dyads and involve in structured activities while boys play in groups and are activity oriented (Helgeson, 2017). Boys also tend to take up more space or play outside more than girls (Helgeson, 2017). Additionally, when listening and watching the girls, they were playing house and using the fictional characters as friends in their houses. This is typical of girls. Plus, I heard one say, “Let’s pretend…,” and girls tend to play house and demonstrate pretend play (Helgeson, 2017). The boys, on the other hand, were engaged in competition and were trying to establish dominance over each other by not being “it” (Helgeson, 2017).
As stated above, this observation is characteristic of western cultures, which focus on individualism (Helgeson, 2017). Yet, eastern cultures value language that is sensitive and a demonstration of empathy and agreement. In fact, these characteristics are seen as powerful (Helgeson, 2017). Realizing this, gender differences in children of Asia may not be as prominent.
Helgeson, V.C. (2017). Psychology of gender (5th Ed.). New York, NY: Taylor and Francis.
Newman, B.M., & Newman, P.R. (2016). Theories of Human Development (2nd Ed.). New York, NY: Psychology Press/Taylor & Francis.
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