Friend’s Gender Affects Positive Emotion in Boys and Girls

Children learn crucial social skills from their peers and form alliances that serve as the foundation for future interactions. Sharing positive emotions (PE) with friends is a vital component of these relationships, and may impact girls more than boys, according to a new study. Julie Sallquist of Arizona State University and her colleagues examined the peer interactions of 166 children to determine if gender affected positive social relations. “For young children, PE is particularly useful as they began to interact in new social contexts (e.g., the preschool environment) and learn how to positively engage their peers to promote and maintain healthy, positive relationships,” said Sallquist.

The children were selected from Head Start programs and were between the ages of 3 and 5. The researchers analyzed data collected over a two year period that was provided by observers, mostly teachers and daycare facilitators. The observers gauged levels of social interaction, positive emotion and gender combinations throughout the children’s day. They assessed them during free time and during structured play in order to obtain information that would reflect the children’s choices of peers. The study revealed that although both boys and girls exhibited high levels of PE when interacting with same sex friends, the girls were more likely to be positive with the boys than the boys were when interacting with girls.

The researchers believe that these findings have significant implications for the onset of future behaviors. Sallquist said, “Children’s mutual PE, regardless of their gender, positively predicted indicators of positive adjustment (e.g., prosocial behavior, cooperation) and negatively predicted indicators of negative adjustment (e.g., hyperactivity, disruption, exclusion by peers).” The team hopes that identifying this gender influence may help predict and prevent social difficulties or behavior issues in young children before they become problematic. Clinicians and educators may find it beneficial to encourage positive emotion in the youngsters by directing peer interactions with relation to gender.

Sallquist, J., DiDonato, M. D., Hanish, L. D., Martin, C. L., & Fabes, R. A. (2011, August 22). The Importance of Mutual Positive Expressivity in Social Adjustment: Understanding the Role of Peers and Gender. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025238

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • jimmy


    September 3rd, 2011 at 12:36 PM

    sometimes people suffer because they were unable to make friends in early childhood and that trend continued later on in life too.but with this sort of a predictor in place we can quickly fix that after a child is identified.

  • Norma


    September 4th, 2011 at 5:25 AM

    It is like girls get a little more comfortable in their own skin a little earlier than boys do. Funny how this seems the flip flop later in life.

  • Ralph Apernathy

    Ralph Apernathy

    September 11th, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    I have noticed that children who have trouble making friends during their years in grade school, continue to have trouble all through high school and college. And only sometimes become sociable after college. A child lacking in friends means they’re lacking in a support group who they can openly share their emotions with. This is a big problem because your years in school, for me, were a time of brutally judgmental thoughts without any kind censors.

    Being able to deal with all the criticism is only possible with a core group of friends. If the use of PE can help predict who will have poorer social skills, we will be able to help these children early and hopefully decrease the number of depressed and lonely children.

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