Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Causal Attributions regarding Conflicts between Friends in Middle Childhood

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Causal Attributions regarding Conflicts between Friends in Middle Childhood

Article excerpt

With a focus on conflict as an interpersonal event rather than a social outcome, the present study investigated children's causal attributions regarding conflicts with friends during middle childhood. Thirty-nine girls and 34 boys responded to an open-ended question about causes of conflicts with friends. Children attributed conflicts between friends to human or relationship characteristics, interactional conditions, or person characteristics. As expected children were more likely to consider conflicts as results of mutual factors than of individual influence (p< .0001). Also, more children considered causes of conflicts to be of an impermanent rather than of a stable nature (p< .01). Children's responses to the open-ended format revealed their very complex understanding of conflict in friendship.

The ability of children to resolve conflicts with peers is a crucial factor determining the level of acceptance or rejection by their peers. Peer rejection in turn increases the risk of social maladjustment, indicated by substance abuse and delinquency (Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 1998). The identification of this linkage between conflict resolution, peer acceptance, and later social adjustment led to an increase in investigations geared towards understanding processes that determine children's responses in conflicts with peers.

One factor that has yet to be fully explored is children's understanding of causality of interpersonal events. The investigation of children's understanding of causes of social outcomes has been conducted mostly within the framework of attribution theory. Thus researchers have focused on the inferences that children make about causes of their own behavior and the behavior of others (Flavell & Miller, 1998). Attributions are conceptualized along three discrete but related dimensions - locus, stability, and controllability. The underlying tenet is that children's attributions in social situations influence their behavior, which in turn influences their relationships, and ultimately their social adjustment (Weiner, 1985, 1991).

Children's attributions are presumed to follow a developmental progression, and evidence suggests that this progression is rather complex. Theoretically, from a structural-developmental viewpoint (Selman, 1980, 1981; Selman & Byrne, 1974) children's reasoning about interpersonal interactions is expected to decrease in egocentrism with age. By middle childhood children are able to understand events from the other person's perspective and eventually realize the mutuality underlying interactional outcomes. Earlier findings suggest a trend in initially attributing causes to situational factors and then to psychological factors qualified by situational conditions (Shantz, 1983).

More recent studies indicate that the changes in causal attributions may develop even earlier (Dunn, 1993), and be more complex than expected (Crick & Ladd, 1993). Since information about characteristics of social interactions during middle childhood is relatively restricted (Rubin, Coplan, Nelson, Cheah, & Lagace-Seguin, 1999), and because it is a period of substantive social-cognitive growth (Shantz & Shantz, 1985), this study examined children's causal attributions about interpersonal conflict during middle childhood.

Linkages between attributions and behavior in interpersonal conflict have also been demonstrated. Elementary school children who have an internal locus of control are likely to suggest solutions that take into account the perspectives of both persons in conflict and propose solutions that are developmentally advanced (Adalbjarnardottir, 1995). The relationship between causal attributions and peer status, although consistently detected, is somewhat less clear. Within group (of peer status) differences (Crick & Ladd, 1993) and contradictory findings regarding the dimension of locus (Ames, Ames, & Garrison, 1977; Renshaw & Brown, 1993; Toner & Munro, 1996) illustrate the complex nature of connections between causal attributions and peer acceptance. …

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