Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Gene-Environment Interplay between Number of Friends and Prosocial Leadership Behavior in Children

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Gene-Environment Interplay between Number of Friends and Prosocial Leadership Behavior in Children

Article excerpt

Enriched environments may moderate the effect of genetic factors on prosocial leadership (gene-environment interaction, G × E). However, positive environmental experiences may also themselves be influenced by a genetic disposition for prosocial leadership (gene-environment correlation, rGE). Relating these processes to friendships, the present study examined (a) whether children with a genetic disposition for prosocial leadership possess a greater number of reciprocal friends (rGE) and (b) whether the number of reciprocal friends interacts with the effect of genetic factors on children's prosocial leadership (G × E). The sample comprised 275 twin pairs assessed in Grade 1 (mean age 84.7 months). Reciprocal friendship and prosocial leadership behavior were measured via peer nominations. Consistent with rGE, a genetic disposition for prosocial leadership was related to an increased likelihood of friendship. Moreover, consistent with a compensation process, environmental influences played a stronger role than genetic influences in prosocial leadership when children had many friends.

Individuals capable of enlisting the help and support of others in order to accomplish a joint task are commonly perceived as leaders (Chemers, 2000). The majority of research on leadership has been conducted in adult populations (e.g., adult work groups, university students, and the military). Nevertheless, Hawley (1999) noted that leadership qualities reflect a developmental process and can be detected even in childhood. The few existing studies on childhood leadership have usually focused on children who emerge as leaders once they are placed in peer groups to participate in a collaborative task (e.g., Li et al., 2007; Yamaguchi, 2001). In contrast to adult leadership, which has been defined with reference to internal characteristics such as personality traits (e.g., five-factor model) or intelligence (e.g., perceived intelligence, "paper-pencil intelligence"), children's leadership is often described in reference to observable actions or behavior. In this regard, studies examining children's leadership behavior have found that children direct others by using two different types of behavior: (a) coercive dominance and (b) prosocial leadership.

Although these terms are not always consistently defined in the literature, coercive dominance in the broadest sense refers to force-submission sequences in which force can be verbal, physical, or personality-based (e.g., hitting, pushing, intimidating by physical stance, using threats of violence to achieve a personal goal). Thus, coercive dominance reflects a negative or coercive dimension of influence over peers that refers to negative or even aggressive acts to lead peers to submission (TrawickSmith, 1988). In contrast, prosocial leadership in young children refers to leadership behavior involving prosocial characteristics-for example, being helpful, being listened to when speaking up, getting along with everyone, and being a trendsetter (Chang, 2003; Miller-Johnson et al., 2003). Similarly, Mawson (2011) categorized leadership into positive styles (Category 4, which reflects prosocial leadership characteristics) and negative styles (Categories 1-3), which reflect coercive dominance characteristics): (a) physical aggression (e.g., taking, threatening, assaulting, pushing, pulling, kicking, hitting), (b) physical assertiveness (i.e., commanding, ordering, controlling resources), (c) relational aggression (i.e., excluding, talking about, name calling, rejecting), and (d) relational assertiveness (e.g., reciprocity, cooperation, helping, inviting, requesting, creating themes and roles).

Leaders are expected to care about others and manifest good interpersonal skills (Popper & Mayseless, 2002) and leaders have been shown to be sensitive to the needs and concerns of their fellow students already during the preschool years (Perez, Chassin, Ellington, & Smith, 1982). Accordingly, leadership indicators found among elementary school children are significantly and positively correlated (r = . …

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