Category: Developmental

Do Girls Really Show More Empathy Than Boys?

By Emma Young

Three people are walking down the street, two women and one man. One of the women trips and falls. Which of the two observers will feel more empathy for her pain? Hundreds of studies suggest that it’ll be the woman. However, these results almost overwhelmingly come from self-reports. Objective evidence that women genuinely feel more empathy than men is very thin on the ground. This has led to the idea that women report more empathy not because they actually feel it but to conform to societal expectations that they should. However, a new study in Scientific Reports claims to provide evidence that, even when they think no one else is looking or asking, girls show more empathy than boys.

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Describing Groups To Children Using Generic Language Can Accidentally Teach Them Social Stereotypes

By Matthew Warren

When we talk to children about the characteristics of boys and girls, our word choice and syntax can profoundly shape what they take away from the conversation. Even attempts to dispel stereotypes can backfire: as we recently reported, telling kids that girls are “as good as” boys at maths can actually leave them believing that boys are naturally better at the subject and that girls have to work harder.

Other work has shown that “generic” language can also perpetuate stereotypes: saying that boys “like to play football”, for instance, can make children believe that all boys like to play football, or that liking football is a fundamental part of being a boy.

Now a study in Psychological Science shows that when kids hear this kind of generic language, they don’t just make assumptions about the group that is mentioned — they also make inferences about unmentioned groups. That is, if children hear that boys like to play football, they might deduce that girls do not.

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Episode 24: How Children Learn Through Play

This is Episode 24 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.

What role does play have in child development? In this episode, our presenter Ginny Smith talks to some top play researchers to find out how children learn new skills and concepts through play, and explores what teachers and parents can do to encourage this kind of learning. Ginny also discovers how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way kids play and learn.

Our guests, in order of appearance, are Professor Marilyn Fleer and Dr Prabhat Rai from Monash University, and Dr Suzanne Egan from the University of Limerick.

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Bullying Between “Frenemies” Is Surprisingly Common

By Emily Reynolds

We already know that bullying can be one way of climbing the social ladder for teenagers. Research published in 2019, for instance, found that teenagers who combine aggressive behaviour with prosociality see the most social success.

But who, exactly, are teenagers bullying? According to Robert Faris from the University of California, Davis and colleagues, writing in the American Journal of Sociology, it might not be who you’d expect. Rather than bullying those more distant from them, the team finds, teens often pick on their own friends.

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Children As Young As Eight Show A Gender Gap In Negotiation

By Emma Young

Though the gender pay gap is narrowing in the UK, it still remains. It’s vital, then, to fully understand what causes it — and so what can be done to ensure that women are paid the same as men for doing the same work. Research does show that women are less likely than men to initiate salary negotiations, and also ask for less. Now a new study in Psychological Science reveals that a gender gap in negotiation emerges surprisingly early, becoming apparent among children aged just eight to nine. This implies that efforts to close the gender pay gap should start long before anyone even enters the workforce. 

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Saying That Girls Are “Just As Good” As Boys At Maths Can Inadvertently Perpetuate Gender Stereotypes

By Emma Young

Though girls and boys do equally well on maths tests, the stereotype that girls aren’t as naturally able at maths — or as likely to be extremely smart — is adopted early; even 6-year-olds in the US endorse it. Of course, these stereotypes harm women in an educational setting and in their professional lives, point out the authors of a new study in Developmental Psychology. So it’s important to understand what gives rise to them. Eleanor Chestnut at Stanford University and her colleagues now report that one common and well-intentioned way of attempting to convey girls’ equality with boys actually backfires: saying that girls are “just as good” as boys at something leads the listener to conclude that boys are naturally better, and girls must work harder to equal them.

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Study Suggests There Is Not A “Sensitive Period” For Developing Musical Skills

By Emma Young

Mozart famously started playing the piano and composing while still a young child. But if he hadn’t started musical practice then, would his future achievements have been as impressive? Is there, in other words, a “sensitive period” in which the brain is especially susceptible to musical stimulation, and during which a person must start to acquire musical skills in order to achieve their full potential — as is the case for visual perception, say, or language acquisition? There has been a lot of debate about this, but now a major new study of professional musicians and identical and non-identical twins in Sweden suggests not. 

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Children Are Much Less Likely Than Adults To Prioritise Human Over Animal Lives

By Emma Young

“Two boats are sinking and you can save only one. One holds two dogs, the other a person. Which do you save? If you’re not sure, you can say, ‘I can’t decide.’” When I put this to my 11-year-old, his response was immediate: “Save the dogs!” In his defence, he has grown up with a pet dog, which he adores — and, according to a new study in Psychological Science, most other kids would say the same thing.

To adults, these findings might seem a little alarming. Indeed, when the team put similar questions (varying the numbers of dogs, pigs and people) to adult participants, 61% opted to save one human over 100 dogs (which does mean of course that nearly 40% didn’t), and 85% of people prioritised one human over one dog, while 93% opted to save a human rather than a single pig (3% went for the pig).

When the team asked 249 kids aged between five and nine about what they thought, though, they found that just over 70% opted to let a person die to save 100 dogs. When it came to one human vs one dog, only about a third of the children opted to save the person, 28% were clear on going for the dog, and the rest couldn’t decide.

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Here’s How Personality Changes In Young Adulthood Can Lead To Greater Career Satisfaction

By Emily Reynolds

Personality traits were once thought to be fairly stable. But recent research has suggested that our personality can alter over time — whether that’s due to ageing or because we decide to change our traits ourselves. And as personality is linked to our behaviour, it follows that we might see different life outcomes as our personality shifts or grows.

In a new study in Psychological Science, Kevin A. Hoff and team look at the personality changes of teenagers as they move into adulthood. And they find that certain shifts in personality can result in real-world benefits during the early years of a career, suggesting that interventions that increase particular traits and skills could make all the difference at work.

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Here’s How Parents’ Reactions To School Performance Influence Their Children’s Wellbeing

By Emma Young

What do you do if your child comes home with a lower score on a test than you both expected? Do you praise their efforts and focus on what they got right? Or do you home in on the answers that they got wrong, hoping this will help them to do better in future?

Research shows that the first, “success-oriented” response is more common in the US than in China, where parents more often opt for “failure-oriented” responses instead. Recent studies in both countries have found that success-oriented responses tend to encourage psychological wellbeing but not necessarily academic success, whereas failure-oriented responses can foster academic performance, but with a cost to the child’s wellbeing.

Jun Wei at Tsinghua University, China, and colleagues wondered what might drive these observed relationships: do different response styles lead children to form different concepts about what their parents want for them — and is this what produces the opposing impacts on wellbeing? In a new paper, published in Developmental Psychology, the team report some intriguing answers to these questions.

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