It has traditionally been thought that children who have early experience of playing with their peers find it easier to adapt to social situations.
But Professor Dario Varin of the University of Milan, speaking at the British Psychological Society conference in Oxford, said that children who attend day-care centres eight hours a day until the age of three tend to have less respect for the rights of other children.
He looked at 89 children between the ages of three and five in a nursery school, 36 of whom had attended day centres from their first or second years. The rest had been cared for at home.
The children were observed in the school by their teachers, and parents were asked about their child's temperament. Tests were devised to look at the children's co-operation, socio-moral developments and any aggressive tendencies.
The children were video-taped carrying out various tasks such as completing a jigsaw puzzle with another child or taking a packet of sweets to share with their class-mates.
When the children were asked to solve puzzles Professor Varin looked at whether they gave or asked for help, whether they split tasks and whether they shared the room round the table.
Those who had had extensive day care tended to be more competitive, refused to help and often took the jigsaw piece away from the puzzle and refused to co-operate.
And when they were asked to take a packet of sweets from one section of the school to the other, day-care children were also less likely to be able to resist the temptation of opening the sweets and eating them rather than give them to their classmates. Almost three times as many of the day-care group did this as the home-care group.
"Contrary to our expectations the early group experience did not foster co-operative behaviour," said Professor Varin. "These results suggest that at least for some children an early and extended group experience does not ... foster socio-moral development even if the quality of group care is 'good enough'."
He called on governments to bring in measures promoting more flexible employment patterns so that children could be cared for at home by their parents in the early stages of their life, "a unique type of care which cannot be substituted by any education".Reuse content