Similarities and Differences Between Boys and Girls
Gender differences in cognitive, social, and personal characteristics have been investigated since the early 1900s. Research has identified differences in several specific cognitive skills as well as in a range of social and personal characteristics. Some differences are apparent from infancy; others do not emerge until late childhood or adolescence. Interestingly, in several skills the differences between boys and girls have shrunk over the last two to three decades. This indicates that socialization and differential experiences play roles in gender differences. Even when gender differences are significant and consistent over time, we still do not fully understand why they exist. Different experiences and socialization are almost certainly involved, but biological factors may also have important effects.
However, the most striking finding in the study of gender is that in most areas the similarities between girls and boys far outweigh the differences. One comprehensive review found that of the 124 meta-analyses included (which represented over 7,000 individual research reports investigating a wide range of cognitive, social, and personality variables), 78% showed small or close-to-zero effect sizes—this indicates few statistical differences between males and females in these studies (Hyde, 2005, 2006). For some variables, context affects whether gender differences were found. For example, when participants were told that gender differences had been found on previous administrations of a math test, males taking the test performed better than females. In contrast, when the participants were told the test was gender-fair, no gender differences were found (Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999). Similar context effects have been found for both aggressive and helping behavior (Hyde, 2005). While it is important to understand how, when, and why gender differences exist, it is equally important to know when they do not exist so that neither girls nor boys are kept from developing their individual potentials.
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