Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Similarity between Friends in Social Information Processing and Associations with Positive Friendship Quality and Conflict

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Similarity between Friends in Social Information Processing and Associations with Positive Friendship Quality and Conflict

Article excerpt

This study of 166 best friend dyads (M = 10.88 years) examined (a) whether children and their best friends were similar in social information processing (SIP) that pertained to two relationship contexts (unfamiliar peer, friend); (b) the associations between children's and their best friends' SIP and friendship quality and conflict ratings; and (c) the relations between SIP similarity and dyadic friendship ratings. Analyses revealed a greater number of similarities for the friend context (hypothetical scenarios involving each other) than the unfamiliar-peer context (scenarios involving unknown peers). Significant relations were found, in both relationship contexts, between children's angry reactions, appeasement coping, and friendship quality ratings, and between external blame attributions and appeasement coping, and conflict ratings. A number of significant associations between similarity, or lack thereof, in aggression-related SIP and friendship qualities suggest that the extent to which children and their friends are similar in aggression-related SIP may explain some variability in the quality of friendships.

A robust finding in the peer relations literature is that children are attracted to, and subsequently form friendships with, peers who are similar in age, sex, social behaviors (e.g., aggression, social withdrawal), and how well they fare within the larger peer group (e.g., victimization; Bowker et al., 2010; Haselager, Hartup, van Lieshout, & Riksen-Walraven, 1998; Kandel, 1978; Rubin, Wojslawowicz, Rose-Krasnor, Booth-LaForce, & Burgess, 2006), and that certain similarities between friends (e.g., aggression, substance use) can contribute to the development and maintenance of adjustment difficulties (e.g., Dishion, Andrews, & Crosby, 1995; Popp, Laursen, Kerr, Stattin, & Burk, 2008). In addition, it has been found consistently that individual differences in social information processing (SIP) - a series of cognitive steps that children take when evaluating hypothetical scenarios in which a negative event occurs but the intent of the peer instigator is ambiguous - help explain children's social behaviors (e.g., aggression) and their difficulties with peers (e.g., Crick & Dodge, 1994; Dodge et al., 2003; Rubin & Krasnor, 1986). SIP biases were historically conceptualized as stable, traitlike characteristics (Crick & Dodge, 1994). However, relatively recent findings strongly suggest that children's SIP differs across relationship contexts or according to the person about whom they are thinking (e.g., Burgess, Wojslawowicz, Rubin, Rose-Krasnor, & Booth-LaForce, 2006; Peets, Hodges, Kikas, & Salmivalli, 2007; Peets, Hodges, & Salmivalli, 2008), likely due to relationship-specific schema, expectations, memories, and affect that impact each step in the SIP model (Lemerise & Arsenio, 2000).

Despite this relatively recent scholarship, many important questions remain. For instance, it is not known whether children and their best friends are similar in SIP or whether the degree of similarity differs across relationship contexts. In addition, investigators have not yet tested whether children's and their friends' SIP are related to their own and their partner's ratings of the quality of their friendships or whether similarity in SIP is associated with positive friendship quality and conflict.

A greater understanding of SIP, similarity, and friendship quality is important given the significant role of involvement in positive, high quality friendships for positive psychological adjustment and well-being, particularly during late childhood and early adolescence (e.g., Nangle, Erdley, Newman, Mason, & Carpenter, 2003), and the very limited knowledge about why some friendships are more positive or more conflict-ridden than others. Thus, the goals of this study were to explore whether children and their best friends are similar to each other in certain types of SIP that have been shown to vary across relationship contexts (internal and external blame attributions, sad and angry reactions, and the selection of revenge, avoidant, and appeasement coping strategies; Burgess et al. …

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