Can Higher Grades Result in Fewer Friends? a Reexamination of the Relation between Academic and Social Competence
Landsheer, Hans A., Maassen, Gerard H., Bisschop, Paulien, Adema, Liesbeth, Adolescence
Although it has been widely assumed that the two domains of social and academic competence are independent, significant positive correlations have recently been found. The present study focused on peer judgments of social competence. Data on 157 secondary school students revealed significant negative correlations. Further analysis was based on Coleman's (1961) explanation that intellectual students are willing to work hard at a relatively unrewarded activity. The results here confirm this view; a significant interaction effect was found for academic effort, academic subject, and academic achievement. It is argued that the contrasting correlations between academic and social competence may be explained by the various operationalizations of social competence.
In contradiction to the assumption that social competence is independent of academic intelligence, significant positive correlations have been found between the two (Cauce, 1987; Keating, 1978; Walker & Foley, 1973). Cauce (1987) reported a correlation of .16 between grade point average (GPA) and peer judgments of popularity in a sample of secondary school students. Green et al. (1980) found a correlation of .33 between sociometric peer judgments of "best friend" and grade point average for primary school children. Pelligrini (1985) found a correlation of .38 between academic achievement and peer judgments of positive aspects of social conduct (such as leadership qualities) with primary school children. Fork and Tisak (1983) reported a positive correlation of .52 between peer judgments of social competence and grade point average with secondary school children.
A possible explanation for these positive correlations is that social and academic competence have global competence as a common element. Ford and Tisak (1983) have suggested that social behavior forms a separate domain, while cognitive social competencies have more similarities with academic competencies. Children who have better reasoning ability are better at both tuning their conduct in complex social situations and solving academic problems. Higher social competence could be explained by better cognitive abilities to choose social goals and to determine how to reach those goals (Ford, 1982).
The hypothesis of global competence contradicts the common notion that children with high learning capabilities are sometimes unpopular. Neisser (1976) states that "academically intelligent people do often behave stupidly. The existing evidence does not suggest that they are markedly more successful than the unintelligent" (p. 139). A possible explanation for a nonlinear relationship is offered by Coleman (1961): "Those who are seen as the intellectuals and who come to think of themselves in this way are not really those of highest intelligence, but are only the ones who are willing to work hard at a relatively unrewarded activity" (p. 265). Similarly, Hartup (1970) points out that "research shows that bright children who achieve at a realistic level have preferred status in the peer group; the overachieving child, however, may have a less certain position in his peer group" (p. 392).
Thus, there are two competing theories: the global-competence theory predicts a positive correlation between school grades and popularity, and the overachiever theory predicts a nonlinear relationship. Coleman's statement also suggests that the reward for a specific activity may play some role. It is assumed that efforts to achieve in some school subjects lead to lesser rewards than efforts in other subjects. Efforts directed at more abstract and less attractive school subjects may lead to decreased popularity, while efforts directed at subjects with everyday relevance, such as learning languages (e.g., English and Dutch), do not necessarily lead to decreased popularity.
Subjects were drawn from three secondary schools in Utrecht, a city in the Netherlands. A total of 157 students (81 females and 76 males, ages 16-17 years) in seven third-grade classes participated. The classes consisted of students of moderate academic level.
End-of-year grade points for mathematics, physics, Dutch, and English were used as indicators of academic performance.
Social competence was measured by having each student judge whether classmates were more, the same, or less competent in making friends than he or she was. Social competence was calculated by averaging the responses. Earlier research (Landsheer, 1991) has shown that using at least three judges provides reasonable test-retest reliability (r = .79). Intergroup reliability is also adequate provided groups of at least three judges are used (r = .61). All students received the judgments of at least seven peers.
The Berenschot G-test was used to measure global reasoning ability. This instrument was constructed to assess the G-factor of intelligence (Roggeveen & Van de Linde, 1973). All forty questions have a multiple-choice format, which makes this test especially suitable for use in the classroom. The test has reasonable internal consistency (Spearman-Brown split-half coefficient = .85) and adequate test-retest reliability (r = .79). For practical reasons (testing was conducted during one 1-hour class), the last ten items, which are the most difficult, were not included.
As a measure of attention paid to academic achievement, students were asked how much time they spent on homework in the previous week for the four subjects (mathematics, physics, Dutch and English). They were also asked how much time they spent on homework altogether. The attractiveness of different school subjects was determined by students on a 1-5 scale.
Because the amount of homework for a specific subject was different for each class, the amount of time spent on homework had to be judged in relation to the class as a whole. For this reason, standard scores for each class were calculated. Since the grades themselves showed some deviations for each class, these were also standardized by class.
The intercorrelations of the variables showed almost the same pattern for males and females, and they were therefore combined. The correlations are shown in Table 1.
The low positive correlations between G-score and school grades were not surprising; they merely indicated that the variance in intelligence in these groups was small. There was a significant negative correlation between grades in mathematics and physics (variables 7 and 8) and judged social competence (variable 12). The comparable correlations were significant for English and Dutch (variables 9 and 10). Therefore, the proposition that there is a positive relation between academic achievement and social competence was not confirmed.
To determine if subject-specific differences can be explained by perceived subject attractiveness, the more abstract subjects (math and physics) were compared with the more practical subjects (English and Dutch). Only the difference between math (the least attractive subject) and Dutch was significant (see Table 2). The differences between physics and the two languages were not significant. Thus, subject attractiveness was insufficient to explain the differential relationships for grades and popularity.
To study the nonlinear relationships more thoroughly, three subgroups were formed, based on z scores (low group, z [less than] - .45; high group, z [greater than] .45), for each school subject: low result, medium result, and high result. The same division was applied to the time spent on homework: low effort, medium effort, and high effort. ANOVA revealed an interaction effect between effort and grades for math in the prediction of popularity (see Figure 1). Hartup's assumption that overachievers would be the least popular was not confirmed: the high effort/high result group had average popularity. The least popular were students in the high effort/low result group. Remarkably, the most popular were the low effort/low result and the medium effort/low result groups. The effort-result interaction was significant, F(4, 142) 3.402, p [less than or equal to] .01. There were no interaction or main effects for physics.
As expected, there were no interaction or main effects of effort and result for Dutch and English. This was concordant with the nonsignificant positive correlations for these subjects.
CONCLUSIONS AND DISCUSSION
Negative correlations were found between indicators of social competence and academic competence (in math and physics.) The practical importance of negative correlations between academic achievement and judged social competence is evident. If high achievement in the sciences results in unpopularity, it could lead to lesser effort by better students.
There are also important theoretical implications: the existence of both negative and positive correlations explains why social and academic competence have been seen as independent. General indicators of social intelligence show a lack of correlation with social competence, while more specific indicators of academic competence show either positive or negative correlations, depending on the operationalization selected.
Ford and Tisak (1983) found a high positive correlation (r = .52) between social and academic competence. In assessing social competence, they used items related to social contact with adults (parents and teachers) and to behavior such as showing responsibility with others and taking charge. These behavioral aspects are related to an adult role. It can be assumed that youths who are serious in preparing themselves for their future social position through hard work also do well in school, and are more appreciated by parents and teachers. It is not surprising that their peers think they are better at handling parents and teachers. Where adult social role is concerned, a positive correlation between academic achievement and judged social competence can be expected.
However, if aspects of social conduct concern contacts with peers, a negative correlation can be expected. Having fun, going out, and maintaining close friendships require more spontaneity and sociability. The judgments used in the present study involved competence in making friends, an ability where spontaneity and sociability are important. It is assumed that better measurements of these aspects will result in even stronger (negative) relationships. As shown here, a strong interest in more abstract academic subjects is not necessarily shared by peers and may interfere with spontaneity and sociability.
Gerard H. Maassen, Ph.D., Paulien Bisschop, and Liesbeth Adema, Utrecht University.
Reprint requests to Hans Landsheer, Ph.D., Department of Methodology and Statistics, Utrecht University, Heidelberglaan 2, P.O. Box 80140, 3508 TC Utrecht, the Netherlands.
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Publication information: Article title: Can Higher Grades Result in Fewer Friends? a Reexamination of the Relation between Academic and Social Competence. Contributors: Landsheer, Hans A. - Author, Maassen, Gerard H. - Author, Bisschop, Paulien - Author, Adema, Liesbeth - Author. Journal title: Adolescence. Volume: 33. Issue: 129 Publication date: Spring 1998. Page number: 185. © 1999 Libra Publishers, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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