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Early Childhood Proxemics

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Phyllis W. Berman and Vicki L. Smith explored how natural signs of proxemics can been seen in pre-adolescent children.   “Smiling, touching and maintenance of proximity are usually thought to be signs of affiliation between peers with the same gender” (p. 347). The basis of the study is that outward signs of affection are naturally more prevalent in female vs. male children.  The study involved 128 male and 128 female children which were randomly paired to a same-sex, same-grade partner for the duration experiment. The random paring insures that the participants did not pick a partner based on pre-existing friendships.  The experiment measured the amount of outward signs of affection between partners during a photo shoot.  Berman and Smith set up a backdrop for a picture and asked the students to pose for the photo with their random matched partner.

The study found that the males and females did not differ significantly as to whether or not they stood close to or touched same-sex peers. Results showed a striking difference in the amount of smiling by each gender, with females smiling more than males. However, the females smiled always regardless of their partner’s gender.  Berman and Smith noted that the study was limited due to a controlled environment. The results may have been impacted by familiarity of the school or the controlled photo shoot area.

Although the study above was not sufficient enough to prove that proximics does impact childhood development further studies could be better designed to measure proximic theory in children. A public playground offers a more natural environment for children to interact together. A study accumulating data on natural poxemic tendencies while at play would be a better tool for proving the hypothesis that outward signs of affection are more prevalent among females vs. males.

As a parent of a two year old boy, there are many observances I can make. Like the study mentioned above, Photo A: Young Children Interacting (below), shows two boys and two girls posing for a photo. The children in this photo are cousins. One can observe that the girls are more comfortable with contact than the boys in the photo.

Photo A: Young Children Interacting


Works Cited

Berman, Phyllis W., and Vicki L. Smith. “Gender And Situational Differences in Children’s Smiles, Touch, And Proxemics.” Sex Roles 10.5-6 (1984): 347-356. PsycINFO. Web 2 Dec. 2011.


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