Collaborative Play in Young Children as a Complex Dynamic System: Revealing Gender Related Differences

Henderien Steenbeek, Diny van der Aalsvoort, Paul van Geert

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6 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this study was to focus on the role of gender-related differences in collaborative play, by examining properties of play as a complex system, and by using micro genetic analysis techniques. A complex dynamic systems model of dyadic play was used to make predictions with regard to duration and number of contact-episodes during play of same-sex dyads, both on the micro- (i.e., per individual session), meso- (i.e., in smoothed data), and macro time scale (i.e., the change over six consecutive play sessions). The empirical data came from a study that examined the collaborative play skills of children who experienced six twenty minute play sessions within a three week period of time. Monte Carlo permutation analyses were used to compare model predictions and empirical data. The findings point to strongly asymmetric distributions in the duration and number of contact episodes in all dyads over the six sessions, as a direct consequence of the underlying dynamics of the play system. The model predictions that girls-dyads would show longer contact episodes than boys-dyads that occur on fewer occasions, and that genders would show the same number of ‘peaks of activity’ during their play session, were confirmed. In addition, the majority of the model predictions regarding changes over the course of six sessions were consistent with the data. That is, the average duration and the maximum duration of contact-episodes increases both in boys-dyads and girls-dyads, but differences occur in the strength of the increase.
Contrary to expectation, the number of contact-episodes decreases both in boys-dyads and in girls-dyads. The implications of these findings for educational settings are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-276
JournalNonlinear dynamics, psychology, and life sciences
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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