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"Thus, while gender does matter a great deal in the formation of children's friendships, children think it is nearly the only relevant factor," says Jennifer Watling Neal. (Credit: Antonio García/Flickr)

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Kids think gender splits up friendship

Even though elementary school boys and girls played together, they seem to think that only boys are friends with boys, and girls with girls, a new study shows.

Researchers examined classroom friendships in five US elementary schools. Their findings are published in the journal Child Development.

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“Kids believe gender plays a larger role in friendship that it actually does,” says Jennifer Watling Neal, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University.

Children who have more accurate perceptions of the social relationships around them may be better able to avoid conflict and have more positive interactions with their peers, Neal says.

The findings also have implications when the students grow up.

“In adulthood,” Neal says, “we know that people who have accurate perceptions of workplace relationships tend to be perceived as more powerful and have better reputations than their colleagues.”

The study of 426 second- through fourth-graders found gender is still important in the formation of friendships; children were nine times more likely to be friends if they were the same gender.

However, when asked about their friends’ friends, a child was 50 times more likely to believe two classmates were friends when they were the same gender.

“Thus, while gender does matter a great deal in the formation of children’s friendships, children think it is nearly the only relevant factor,” Neal says.

Her co-authors were Zachary P. Neal, assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State, and Elise Cappella, associate professor of applied psychology at New York University.

Source: Michigan State University

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