Everyone knows by the second grade that boys have germs and girls have cooties. But at least for boys, new research says cooties might actually be good for you.
According to a new study, preschool boys perform better on tests that measure learning and other important skills when they are in classes that have more girls than boys. The pattern doesn't seem to hold for girls, though. For preschool girls, the presence or absence of boys did not affect learning.
The study raises questions about having all-boy or all-girl classes for preschool , says psychologist Arlen Moller, of Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, who led the study. Other studies have shown that high-school girls may perform better in all-girl schools. In middle school, however, the effects of same-sex schooling are unclear, and even less is known for very young kids.
To find out, researchers studied 70 preschool classes including a total of 806 children who were between 31/2 and 6 years old. For each class, teachers recorded student progress over a 6.5-month school year.
Their data included teacher scores of motor skills, social skills and thinking skills. The researchers found that boys developed each of these skills more quickly when there were more girls in the class than boys.
In majority-girl classrooms, boys developed at the same rate as girls. But in classes where boys were the majority, boys developed more slowly than girls. Girls tended to advance in classrooms with any combination of boys and girls.
The study is one of the first to look at how the proportion of boys and girls in a class affects learning. Because it's a new finding, though, researchers can't say why this difference exists.
"This is an exciting topic, but it is too early to draw any conclusions because this area is so underexplored," says psychologist Lena Malofeeva of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, Mich.