Masculinity is one of the components composing the image of the successful male. In its turn masculinity is characterized by a specific behavioral pattern where aggression plays a significant role. There can be no surprise that researchers have started exploring the origins of aggression.
Numerous surveys suggest that aggressive behavior is revealed in boys at a young age. Thus, many scholars have studied pre-school boys’ behavior and have come to the conclusion that at a young age boys are more aggressive than girls of the same age. However, it is possible to point out that while boys are more aggressive physically, girls may be also aggressive: girls may be characterized by relational aggression.
Many researchers agree that at a young age boys are more aggressive than girls of the same age (Bower, 2000; McGuire, 1973; Van de Water, 1935). However, as far as the reasons for the aggression development are concerned there is no conventional opinion.
For instance, many scholars suggest that social interactions play essential role in the development of aggression. Thus, according to McGuire (1973) sociometric status influences the development of aggressive behavior suggesting that “highly aggressive” preschool boys “tend to be unpopular rather than popular” (McGuire, 1973, p.547).
Bower (2000) also suggests that popularity is one of the key factors which influence aggression. However, although McGuire (1973) reported that aggressive boys were in the majority of cases unpopular, Bower (2000) found that popular boys were characterized by the aggressive behavior and tended to “sit high on the junior social ladder” (Bower, 2000, p. 52).
Although Bower (2000) and McGuire (1973) reported that popularity played the significant role in forming aggressive behavior, Van de Water (1935) found that another social factor contributed to the increasing of amount of aggression. According to Van de Water, pre-school boys are more aggressive than the girls of the same age due to the opinion of the majority that “all boys fight – it’s just something they have to go through, like measles” (Van de Water, 1935, p.70).
Thus, the researcher assumes that boys’ aggression is almost encouraged and girls’ aggression is suppressed. So, the researchers prove that pre-school boys are more aggressive than their female peers but all scholars have their own explanations for that tendency.
Thus, the surveys mentioned above suggest that boys are more aggressive, but further study should be implemented. For instance, all the researches considered above explored the children’s behavior at school. It is still not clear whether the same tendency can be revealed in other environment.
To explore this, the present study observed boy’s behavior in parks, playing with their peers. Since the previous research was concluded at school there was interference of adults (teachers) which solved the conflict. Thus, it can be useful to observe children’s behavior when adults do not interfere. These are major points which should be considered in the future researches analyzing pre-school boys’ aggressive behavior.
According to various researches pre-school boys are more aggressive than girls of the same age. This statement is supported by data obtained in kindergartens and schools (Bower, 2000; McGuire, 1973; Van de Water, 1935). Boys behave more aggressively due to social factors: opinion of other peers (popularity) and tradition (boys always fight).
However, these surveys do not raise the question whether boys are more aggressive than girls when no supervision is done since in most cases adults used to interfere in the conflict situation. Thus, it is possible to formulate the hypothesis of the present research as follows:
Boys at a young age are more aggressive than girls of the same age when no adult supervision is conducted.
To check the hypothesis it is necessary to observe such variables as behavior, gender and age. Thus, the behavioral patterns of males and females of a certain age will be analyzed. To collect the necessary data, the behavior of children playing in the park will be observed.
In parks children are usually strangers to each other and there are no established groups of popular and unpopular children. So, children occur in other conditions than they face at kindergarten. Moreover, it is necessary to observe children playing without adults.
Thus, in conflict situations children will have to resolve the conflicts themselves. Perhaps, it will evoke more aggression or vice versa it will lead to less aggressive behavior. To conduct the research it is necessary to observe children’s behavior in a park during ten days. Thus, every day children playing in the same park will be observed during an hour. This will be enough to check the hypothesis.
The children of the age of three to five years will participate in the research. Each time no more than four or six children of both sexes (2-3 boys and 2-3 girls) will be observed. This will enable to focus on particular behavioral patterns and implement deeper analysis without distracting to other factors. Total number of children is expected to be about twenty: adults often go to the same places with their children, but there are still many newcomers.
As far as the data collected are concerned, first of all, the number of quarrels and the numbers à fights will be noted. Of course, it is necessary to point out the participants (males of females), instigators (males or females). It can be also useful to note the course of quarrel/fight and how the conflict is solved.
For analysis of the data obtained it is necessary to implement the mixed data analysis method. According to Howitt and Cramer (2008) this will make the quantitative data “extended, illustrated or explicated” (Howitt and Cramer, 2008, p.293). Thus, while calculating the amount of aggression in children qualitative methods will help find out the reasons for such behavior depict some significant details.
As far as the results are concerned, it is expected that boys will be still characterized by more aggressive behavior than girls with no respect to new circumstances or the absence of adult supervision. Such data will definitely support the hypothesis. However, it is possible that when adults do not watch children behave differently: girls are not told that fighting is bad, boys are not afraid of punishment and can act more aggressively which can result in more aggressive girls’ behavior.
Subjects. Twenty-four children were observed: among them 12 boys and 12 girls. The children were approximately of the same age, ranging from three and five years. They were observed playing in the park playground within 14 days. The amount of observational time was exceeded (it was planned to devote 10 days to observation) due to necessity to collect more data.
Additionally, the children were not supervised during their games, so the interference of adults was quite insignificant. In the majority of cases children resorted to the adults’ assistance after a conflict had taken place. Moreover, many conflicts were solved without interference of adults: children often switched over to other activities or were attracted by other objects.
Assessment. The present research is conducted using mixed data analysis method which enables to have more comprehensive understanding. A modified version of an observational technique used in McGuire’s (1973) survey was exploited in the present research to obtain the necessary data. First of all, a checklist assessing the amount of aggression was filled in. The following points were noted in the checklist:
Non-Compliance: indifference to other children, unwillingness to share toys or start communicating / playing with others.
Interference: teasing others, snatching and/or damaging toys of other children, interfering with activities of other children.
Attack: humiliating, controlling actions of others (ordering to do something), revealing open aggression verbally or physically, pushing and fighting.
Comments: the reason for the conflict, instigators (male or female), participants (male-male, female-male or female-female).
The quantitative data were then calculated and analyzed. These results are illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The assessment of aggression in terms of the following factors: non-compliance, interference, attack.
Thus, it is possible to point out that boys are more aggressive than girls since the rate of girls’ attacks and interference is significantly lower than that of boys’. Five boys (approximately 42%) revealed physical aggression (had fights or pushed others) and only two girls (approximately 17%) pushed other children.
As far as interference is concerned it is necessary to point out that girls are characterized by verbal aggression (teasing) and boys are characterized by snatching and damaging toys of other children. Interestingly, the number of girls does not differ greatly from the number of boys observed in terms of interference (33% of girls and 50%boys).
Surprisingly, girls were more non-compliant as compared to boys. Thus, four girls (33%) were rather ignorant: they did not want to start playing with others and they did not share their toys, whereas, only three boys (25%) were non-compliant. When taking into account all three factors (non-compliance, interference and attack) it is possible to conclude that 28% of girls 39% of boys revealed aggressive behavioral patterns.
As far as the qualitative data are concerned it is necessary to point out that the main reasons for aggressive behavior were toys and the place on the playground. The instigators of physical conflicts were boys: four boys initiated physical conflicts and among females only one girl was an instigator of a conflict.
It is also important to denote that only few intersexual physical conflicts (one fight started by a boy and several cases of pushing) were observed. In the majority of cases boys revealed aggression towards boys, and girls were aggressive with girls. However, as far as teasing was concerned it is necessary to note that all three types of patterns (male-male, male-female, female-female) were observed.
The present study has provided evidence that pre-school boys are more aggressive than girls of the same age. Pre-school children playing in the park were observed. The children’s behavior was analyzed in terms of their interactions (compliance or non-compliance) and aggressive behavior (interference and attacks). The research has shown that the males revealed physical aggression (snatch toys, push, and fight) more often, whereas the females often resorted to verbal aggression (tease).
Notably, the girls were more non-compliant than the boys; many girls did not want to participate in activities with other children or did not want to accept new participants into ongoing activities. It is worth mentioning that the major reasons for aggressive behavior in the children were toys or the place on the playground. Since only a few cases of intersexual conflicts were observed, the present study cannot address those classes of aggression.
Prior research has demonstrated that boys were more aggressive than girls which was observed in kindergartens (Bower, 2000; McGuire, 1973; Van de Water, 1935), and the present study advances the field by showing that the same tendency is maintained when little adult supervision is conducted (in the park).
This finding is important since it suggests that preschoolers act in the same way without adult supervision and outside established social groups. There are no certain popular or unpopular children, in the majority of cases children are strangers to each others).
The present research enables to assume that such social factors as popularity and edification (children are taught that they should not fight) play an important role in the development of aggressive behavior. In the first place many children (mainly boys) tried to gain certain popularity occupying particular places on the playground and deciding who can and who cannot play in the activities started by them. Such situation often led to conflicts.
Secondly, even though there was no explicit adult control over children observed, presumably they are told (as any other children) what is good and what is wrong. Of course, children try to conduct in the “right” way since they were told so. Thus, even at such a young age children’ behavior is influenced by some edification which is revealed on the playground.
The present research also showed that morality influences children’s behavior since, in the majority of cases, boys used to avoid conflicts with girls and physical conflicts were rather rare. This can be a proof that adults teach their children basic principles of morality and children use this knowledge with or without adult supervision.
Although the present study extends our understanding of the development of aggressive behavior in preschool children, it is limited by several factors. First of all, the number of the children observed is small. Distortion of results is possible. Secondly, only one park was observed. However, it could be useful to observe children playing in parks located in different parts of the city, so behavior of children pertaining to different social groups can be analyzed.
There are a number of directions for future research. Thus, it is possible to focus on the reasons for the development of aggressive behavior in children. The future research can be based on the same observation in parks, but interviewing of parents and children should be also conducted.
In this case we will know what reasons for aggression can children and their parents provide. This survey will reveal not only social factors influences the peculiarities of behavior but some personal, psychological factors. Interviewing will help to understand whether aggression is normal for each child, and what the reasons for aggression are.
In summary, it is possible to state that preschool boys are more aggressive than girls of the same age which can be observed not only when adult supervision is conducted but when children occur in some informal situations as well. Thus, the further step in the field is to define the reasons for the development of aggression. This knowledge will enable people to prevent further development of aggressive behavior in children.
Bower, B. (2000, January 22). Boys Show Their Tough Side. Science News, 157(4), 52.
Hawley, P.H. (2003, April 15). Strategies of Control, Aggression, and Morality in Preschoolers: An Evolutionary Perspective. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 85, 213–235.
Howitt, D., Cramer, D. (2008). Introduction to Research Methods in Psychology. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education.
McGuire, J.M. (1973, December). Aggression and Sociometric Status with Preschool Children. Sociometry, 36(4), 542-549.
Van de Water, M. (1935, February 2). Girls Fight, Too. The Science News-Letter, 27(721), 70-71.