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Department
Psychology
Course
Psychology 2800E
Professor
Dr.Mike
Semester
Fall

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RUNNING HEAD: GENDER DIFFERENCES IN CHILDREN’SATTENTION SPAN 1 Sex Differences in Children’s Attention Span Braden G. Marchand The University of Western Ontario Psychology 2410A th Wednesday, December 4 2013 GENDER DIFFERENCES IN CHILDREN’S ATTENTION SPAN 2 Abstract Here the authors studied and compared gender differences within attention among children. Observations of these children, aged between four to five years, were made at a laboratory school located at the University of Western Ontario. Throughout the course of a month, four observers went in to observe a set of 8 children (2 per observer), containing 4 boys and 4 girls, during their daily ‘story time’.Achild losing his/her attention during story time was operationally defined into separate categories: standing/walking around, distracting others, being distracted themselves, looking around (for a substantial amount of time 3-5+ seconds) and talking. Each time one of the observers two children would lose their attention towards the story in any one of the manners listed above, it would be recorded. The data collected over two observation sessions of each child were compiled and compared between genders. Overall there was no significant difference in attention span between males and females (p=0.14). However, there were significant differences between genders in the different categories of losing attention. The female children were found to ‘stand or and walk around’much more often than the males (p=0.04).Also, for ‘distracting others’, males did this substantially more than the females (p=0.03). Their research paper includes a discussion section regarding limitations and biases as well as future implications for research pertaining to this topic. Introduction Attention is an ambiguous term and is not yet fully understood in terms of sensation and perception. To be able to describe ‘being attentive’or’attending to something’requires an examination and understanding of the sensational and perceptional processes that humans experience. This idea of attention can be interpreted in many ways and is difficult to define GENDER DIFFERENCES IN CHILDREN’S ATTENTION SPAN 3 specifically because it is a subjective matter. There are only theories about when, how and how much we can attend to at one particular moment. Here though, we will be considering attention as: the act or state of applying the mind to something. People are generally always attending to something at any time, whether it is a thought, something in sight, or listening to music. Attention is necessary to efficient functioning in this world and it is certainly one of the most important abilities that any human can possess.At what age do we develop this ability, or is it innate? Does peoples’ability to attend vary across demographic characteristics?All aspects of attention are important to understand, but each must be handled and investigated individually. What we will be looking at, is whether or not there are gender differences in attention span among children. One of the reasons we chose to look at whether there are differences in children particularly rather than adults is because we feel there lies some practicality in having information like this for the youth. Knowing about potential differences in children allows for modifications in the way attention is conceptualized, punished, rewarded, anything really. This sort of information could allow for some change which could help children grow up understanding the nature and importance of attention, and also how to control it. So why are we taking the time to look into this, is there not already plenty of research and evidence about this topic? Yes there is a plethora of information regarding attention in general, but surprisingly not very much regarding sex differences among children. None the less it is essential that prior to any hypothesis or observations being done, we must take a look at what is already out there. In a study done by Raffaelli, Crockett and Yuh-Lien (2005) titled Developmental Stability and Change in Self-Regulation From Childhood to Adolescence, 646 children were studied longitudinally looking at levels of self-regulation at ages 4-5, 8-9 and 12-13. These levels of self- GENDER DIFFERENCES IN CHILDREN’S ATTENTION SPAN 4 regulation were measured using ’12 maternal-report items that measured regulation of affect, behavior, attention’. Results showed that at each of the three time points in which the children were measured, females consistently showed ‘significantly higher levels of self-regulation than did boys’. So it stands here that females are generally more self-regulatory than males are at these ages, and with a sample this large the data can be taken seriously. This idea of self- regulation although it has an attentional component, it is not restricted to attention, so to what extent these results are relevant to our study is uncertain. If in our study we are to find that there is a significant difference in attention among gender at the preschool age (favoring girls) then to what extent would this finding be attributable to higher self-regulation in female? Consider also, if boys were found to have better attention, would this mean self-regulation is irrelevant? In either situation we are left with contemplating whether our measuring of attention is really about attention or more generally about self-regulation. Another research study previously done that pertains to our topic is one named ‘A measure of childrens attentional capacity’done by Weber and Segalowitz (1990). Here Weber and Segalowitz use what is called theAttentional Capacity Test (ACT) to measure attentional capacity in children aged 5-13 years. This concept of capacity refers to the maximum amount of information one can attend to between multiple or within one, setting. The test results were then compared across various participant characteristics including: sex, age, parental education, etc. In regards to sex, they found no major differences in the results of theACT. This finding is interesting and important because it provides evidence for there being no difference in the actual attentional capacity between genders. This could mean that girls or boys are no more mentally able to pay attention to something any more than the other. This suggests that any differences we may find could be directly a result of choice, not necessarily consequence of gender differences GENDER DIFFERENCES IN CHILDREN’S ATTENTION SPAN 5 in ability to attend. It is now obvious that we must consider mere choice as a factor when looking at attention span. Kochanska, Murray and Harlan in 2000 released a paper named Effortful control in early childhood: continuity and change, antecedants, and implications for social development which revolves around a concept coined ‘effortful control’. This idea of effortful control means that children’s actions are decisions made conscientiously and intendedly.Asummation of the methods involved: ‘Behavioral multitask batteries and parental ratings assessed effortful control at 22 and 33 months’. One of the effortful control functions is in fact ‘effortful attention’, which is exactly what we are looking for. The results of this longitudinal study show that overall, effortful control is higher for females than males suggesting that females tend to have more frequent control and attentiveness than males. These results follow similarly to those of the ‘self- regulation’study mentioned above; suggesting a pattern that maybe increased attention in females is due to their ability to control themselves better. We will consider findings from each of these papers going forward. Acommon notion regarding children is that boys are more rambunctious and girls are more restrained. Some of the previous research suggests some proof for this concept.As a group we believe there will some sort of manifestation of these general traits into a child’s overall attention span. So the males may be more eager to go play with toys, or stand and jump around and expend energy, while the females may be more content with dedicating attention towards something. More generally we feel that males will be less attentive than females when assessing their attention spans. In our study we will consider the child’s gender to be the independent variable and their attention span the dependent variable. It is important to note that gender is not a ‘true’independent variable because it cannot be assigned or manipulated, but it will suffice in GENDER DIFFERENCES IN CHILDREN’S ATTENTION SPAN 6 the sense that it is unchanging. Inherently we predict that a child’s attention span depends on their gender. Methods In this study we used an observational method of testing attention span in children. The sample we used consisted of 8 preschool children from a laboratory school at the University of Western Ontario. These participants hovered around the age of 4 years old with the youngest child being 3 years 10 months and the oldest at 4 years 10 months. Of these 8 children, 4 were male and 4 were female. Each of us 4 observers were assigned to make observations on 2 children. The laboratory school contained observation rooms bordering the classrooms with one-sided windows; this is how observations were made. The classroom contained 6 microphones hung down from the ceiling in
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