Behavioral Profiles of Different Types of Social Status in Preschool Children: An Observational Approach

Article excerpt

The aim of this study was to explore the behavioral profiles of children of various types of social status, in a sample of 54 preschool children (15 boys, 39 girls; mean age = 5.15 years), using an observational method. Popular, rejected, neglected and controversial types of social status were defined by direct observation of the behaviors received by each child from their peers. Behavioral profiles were obtained from the time budget of activities exhibited by each subject during free play time. Popular children showed high levels of hierarchical play and sociability and low levels of all aggression subtypes; rejected children showed high levels in person-directed and seizing object aggressions and did not engage in hierarchical play; neglected children displayed low levels of hierarchical play and sociability and higher than average levels only in seizing object aggression; and controversial children showed high levels of sociability and low levels of hierarchical play. The results highlight the relevance of hierarchical play in social acceptance and its possible effectiveness as an intervention tool.

Keywords: social acceptance, preschool children, social status, behavioral profiles, direct observation.

Clear evidence exists among social development researchers that children's peer relationships play an essential role in furthering social adjustment and competence (Asher & Coie, 1990; Asher & Parker, 1989; Hartup, 1983, 1989, 1992); furthermore, peer relationships serve as a protective factor against the impact of adverse family environments and a disadvantaged background (Criss, Pettit, Bates, Dodge, & Lapp, 2002; Price, 1996). The behaviors displayed in these early social relationships have a decisive influence on the number of opportunities provided for learning the social skills required for social adaptation.

The usual method of measuring future social adjustment is to look at the social status of preschool children. Indeed, it has been well documented that rejected status constitutes a social risk status (Dodge et al., 2003), whereas being popular is considered an advantage for subsequent social adaptation (Moreno, 1999b).

The main question we aim to answer in this study is whether it is possible to identify the behavioral profiles related to acceptance or rejection. Thus, with the aim of identifying the social behaviors related to social adjustment during the preschool period, the study will explore the differences between different types of social status as regards their behavioral profiles.

Social status research has mainly focused on sociometric measures (for a review see Newcomb, Bukowski, & Pattee, 1993). Thus, the use of sociometric classification could be considered a traditional methodology for the study of social acceptance among peers. One of the most widely used measures has been the peer assessment technique, in which children are asked to nominate classmates as either liked or disliked in play. In short, using this or similar techniques, it is possible to establish different status types with regard to social acceptance among peers. Although the earliest research projects relied on one-dimensional sociometric classification systems (popular or unpopular), later researchers (Coie, Dodge, & Coppotelli, 1982) developed a two-dimensional sociometric classification system (social preference and social impact) which has since played a key role in research focusing on peer relations and social development. In their meta-analytic review, Newcomb et al. (1993) suggested that this standard twodimensional model could be considered a classical approach to the study of peer popularity. This model, which allows a variety of configurations of unpopular children to be identified, has been a key area of progress in the study of children's peer relationships (Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 1998). In addition to the popular and average child, three other social status types have been identified: rejected, neglected, and controversial. …