Boys in schools may be more ‘cliquey’ than girls, forming the most tight-knit friendship groups often structured around gender, a study has found.

A clique describes group of individuals who exclusively interact with one another, and are often not welcoming to outsiders. The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that factors such as location and timetable may have an impact on the social networks that children develop.

Social mixing patterns are commonly used in mathematical models of infectious disease which can play a vital role in public health planning, such as determining effective vaccination strategies. Children’s mixing patterns are recognised as particularly important, as they represent a key risk group for disease transmission.

As school is the primary location for many of their interactions, understanding how children socialise there is vital. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the University of Cambridge in the UK, examined the features and structure of children’s social networks within different schools.

Previous research on social interactions among children has generally focused on just a single day. The team surveyed the self-reported contacts of 460 year 7 pupils across four UK secondary schools over a five month period (between January and June 2015).

In total pupils completed 1,254 surveys, reporting contact information such as who they spend the most time with.The schools in the study were selected to be representative of different geographical and socioeconomic settings, for example including rural and urban and single-sex and mixed-sex schools.

Researchers found that while the overall structure of contacts within children’s networks was generally consistent within schools, the patterns of interactions varied considerably between each school. In most schools, children formed well-defined groups, whereas in one school, children interacted more widely.

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