Similarities and Differences Between Boys and Girls (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Social Behavior and Personality Traits

Prevailing stereotypes in Western cultures portray boys as more active and aggressive and girls as more emotional and helpful. The research evidence supports some of these images, but not all. On average, boys do show higher activity levels than girls from infancy onward. They are more likely to engage in outdoor play, rough play, and activities that cover large areas of physical space (Eaton & Enns, 1986; Lindsey, Mize, & Pettit, 1997; Maccoby, 1998). Girls, on the other hand, perform better on tasks involving flexibility and fine-motor coordination. These differences increase with age. Both girl and boy infants explore new objects, but they tend to use different strategies for doing so. Boys are more likely to handle a new object physically; girls are more likely to use visual exploration, looking carefully at a novel object without actually touching it. Interestingly, male and female infants show different reactions when left alone to explore. Boys are more likely to explore objects and become more independent, while girls show less exploration and greater attempts to establish or maintain contact with their caregiver (e.g., not letting go of their parents, reaching for the door their parent left through, sitting at the door crying) (Mayes, Carter, & Stubbe, 1993).

What about aggression and assertiveness? These two categories of behavior differ by whether they can hurt others; aggression is directed against someone or something, whereas assertiveness may be defined as speaking up for oneself, being self-confident. Beginning at an early age, boys show more physical aggression, such as hitting or kicking, than girls; this difference continues throughout childhood and into adulthood (Coie & Dodge, 1998; Hyde, 2005). Boys also show higher levels of assertiveness than girls, though the difference is not as great as for physical aggression (Feingold, 1994). Gender differences like these have been found in several studies of girls and boys in numerous countries (Bettencourt & Miller, 1996; Coie & Dodge, 1998; Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974). But the gender gap may be closing for physical aggression, at least among 10- to 17-year-olds. In 1993, adolescent boys reported seven times more violent behavior than girls. By 1998, the ratio had gone down to 3.5 to 1. Arrest rates showed the same trend—in 2003, females accounted for 18% of all arrests of juveniles for violent crimes, up from 10% in 1980 (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2001). It's also important to remember that aggression can take different forms; it does not have to be physical. Relational aggression seeks to hurt others through social means such as name-calling or exclusion. Girls are significantly more likely than boys to show relational aggression (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995).

Researchers have not found consistent gender differences in prosocial behavior or emotions. Girls often receive ratings from others, and evaluate themselves, as more helpful, cooperative, and sympathetic than boys, but their actual behavior is not consistently different from that of boys. However, girls are more likely to seek and to receive help than are boys, and some studies indicate that girls are more easily influenced than boys (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998; Ruble & Martin, 1998). When attempting to influence others, boys are more likely to use threats and physical force. Girls tend to use verbal persuasion or, if that does not work, simply to stop their efforts to influence the other person (Serbin, Moller, Gulko, Powlishta, & Colburne, 1994).

Some researchers suggest that male infants are more emotionally reactive than female babies, but that culture socializes boys to express less emotion as they get older (with the possible exception of anger). As a result, boys become less skilled at understanding both their own and others' emotions. As this view predicts, research shows that by adolescence there are clear gender differences in the expression of emotions, particularly of negative ones. For example, girls are more likely to show symptoms of depression or anxiety and to attempt suicide; boys are significantly less likely to report that they experience sadness, shame, or guilt. However, boys are significantly more likely to actually commit suicide. It seems that adolescent boys learn to bear their negative feelings alone and in silence, with potentially deadly results (Eisenberg, Martin, & Fabes, 1996; Kindlon & Thompson, 2000).

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