It is argued that earlier studies of children's ‘free’ descriptions typically confound an interpretation of the child's capabilities (for which prescriptive precedures may be required) with an interpretation of the child's preferred mode of construing (for which minimal intrusion is generally necessary). A content analysis that avoids prescription in both instructions and coding of 8–13-year-olds' descriptions of liked and disliked peers reveals, contrary to common contention, that older children do employ a high proportion of so-called ‘peripheral’ constructs and, in particular, boys show an increasing concern with others' appearance. Differences between the content of boys' and girls' descriptions amplify earlier work in demonstrating that boys' greater concern with others' relatively ‘objective’ characteristics is marked for all age groups sampled, and that reports of profound differentiation at adolescence may stem only from girls' increasing concern with interpersonal matters. Hypotheses derived from Guttman's formulation of different ‘ecologies’ for the sexes received only partial support, which suggests that his formulation blurs important sex differences in impression formation. Finally, the non-prescriptive procedures employed reveal that, contrary to others' findings, there are substantial differences in peripheral/central focusing in descriptions of liked and disliked others.