Gender differences in social reasoning during peer collaboration



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Texas Tech University


Researchers have long recognized that intellectual growth and social experiences are linked in cognitive development (Piaget, 1965; Vygotsky, 1978). Peer collaboration has provided a useful research paradigm in which to explore the effects of social interaction on the developmental process. Differences observed in problem-solving strategies during collaboration on various cognitive tasks have suggested that working with a partner can either facilitate or deter learning depending on the context of the problem and the gender ofthe collaborators (Hill, 1983; Tudge, Winterhoff, & Hogan, 1996). To date, there has been insufficient research using problem-solving tasks in the interpersonal domain to clarify the relationships of social context and gender to social reasoning.

The purpose of the present study was twofold: (1) to investigate gender differences in adolescent social reasoning during peer collaboration regarding the resolution of hypothetical interpersonal dilemmas within two social contexts (dating and employment) and (2) to explore differences in communication among pairings of different gender compositions, i.e., two females, two males, or one female and one male. Within a pretest-posttest design, college undergraduates (N - 96, mean age = 18.53, SD = 0.72) were randomly assigned to work either individually at all times or with a partner at the second of three testing sessions. In general, differences in level of reasoning were found by context with participants reasoning at higher levels for dating dilemmas more often than employment dilemmas. Furthermore, collaborative pairs as a group performed better than individuals; however, this was primarily due to the performance of male and mixed-gender dyads, specifically males collaborated at higher levels of reasoning than female collaborators. Male and mixed-gender pairs benefited most from working with partners while reasoning about interpersonal problems within the dating context, whereas female pairs and participants working alone did not. In regard to gender differences in communication, male pairs talked less than female and mixed-gender pairs; however, no gender differences were found in number of interruptions or talk-overs. Gender and use of transactive discussion were found to interact with the level of social reasoning used in both social contexts