Sex differences in children's conceptions of their best friends

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Children from two different populations were asked to give qualities that are most important in a best friend of the same and opposite sex. Subjects were drawn from the seventh and eighth grades in a parochial school and from the eighth grade in a public school. In order to detect sex and population differences, the two samples of eighth graders were compared first. With regard to a same sex best friend, girls tended to give responses relating to intimacy and the quality of the interaction more than boys. The eighth grade boys, however, were more concerned about the personal attributes of a best friend. These sex differences suggest the importance of social experience. Only in responses referring to physical attributes was there a population difference. The public school eighth graders stressed these items more than those in parochial school. Responses in regard to an opposite sex best friend also yielded significant sex and population differences. Eighth grade girls were more concerned about the quality of the interaction with an opposite sex best friend than were boys. A dramatic population difference occurred since public school children (especially boys) gave physical attributes more often than parochial school children. In the area of intimacy or trust, eighth graders in parochial school responded more frequently than those in public school. This may relate to the stable and long-lasting friendships that are likely to develop between parochial school children who have known each other longer. Responses of seventh graders from the parochial school were briefly discussed.