Social cognition on the playground: Children's beliefs about playing with girls versus boys and their relations to sex segregated play

Carol Lynn Martin, Richard A. Fabes, Stephanie M. Evans, Heidi Wyman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


We examined the relation between children's social cognitions about playing with girls and boys and their self-reported and actual play partner preferences. A total of 184 young children (92 girls, 92 boys; 41-82 months old) answered questions about their preferences for playing with hypothetical peers, their beliefs about others' approval for their playing with these children, and their predictions of other children's play preferences. To assess actual play preferences, a sub-sample of 40 children was observed in naturally occurring free-play peer interactions. Results showed that children held gender-typed beliefs about other children's play partner preferences and these beliefs were stronger for older children. Children also believed that others would be more likely to approve of their behavior when they played with same-sex peers than with other-sex peers, and this belief was stronger in older children. When asked about their own preferences, children reported strong same-sex play partner preferences, which increased with age. Observations confirmed that children have same-sex preferences. Children's gender-typed cognitions about play partners correlated with play partner preferences: the more gender-typed the belief, the more children preferred same-sex playmates. The relation between age and playmate preference was mediated by children's beliefs about others, suggesting a possible causal link between changing gender cognitions and increased tendencies to prefer same-sex partners. Thus, social cognitions may account, in part, for age changes in sex segregation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)751-771
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1999


  • Cognition
  • Gender
  • Peer relations
  • Sex segregation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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