Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Children's Narrative Accounts and Judgments of Their Own Peer-Exclusion Experiences

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Children's Narrative Accounts and Judgments of Their Own Peer-Exclusion Experiences

Article excerpt

Peer exclusion is a multifaceted social experience, one that has drawn attention from developmental, clinical, and social psychologists (e.g., Baumeister & Catanese, 2001; Killen, Margie & Sinno, 2006; Ladd, Herald-Brown, & Reiser, 2008; Twenge, 2005). Exclusion is commonly thought of as a form of relational or social aggression (e.g., Ostrov & Keating, 2004; Underwood, Scott, Galperin, Bjornstad, & Sexton, 2004) inasmuch as it serves as a means for purposefully, though perhaps subtly or covertly, harming others by manipulating or disrupting relationships. However, peer exclusion is not always intended to harm; rather, instances of peer exclusion may reflect children's attempts at maintaining friendships, drawing group boundaries, and optimizing group functioning (e.g., Corsaro, 1985; Evaldsson & Tellgren, 2009; Goodwin, 2002; Horn, 2005). Therefore, peer exclusion can also be considered as an inevitable feature of normative social interactions. Indeed, in childhood and adolescence, peer exclusion is a very common experience, and although some children are consistently rejected by their peers and some habitually exclude others, most children of all ages exclude one another occasionally (Bukowski & Sippola, 2001; Underwood & Buhrmester, 2007). Importantly, however, even when not used as a means for intentionally harming others, exclusion involves the potential for distress and hurt feelings of those excluded (e.g., Fänger, Frankel, & Hazen, 2012; Horn, 2005; Killen et al., 2006).

Though substantial research has been devoted to relational and social aggression (for reviews, see Archer & Coyne, 2005; Card, Stucky, Sawalani, & Little, 2008), most studies have not differentiated among the types of behaviors that are counted as socially or relationally aggressive, and relatively few have focused solely on children's peer exclusion experiences. Overall, this research (e.g., Evaldsson & Tellgren, 2009; Fänger et al., 2012; Underwood & Buhrmester, 2007; Underwood et al., 2004) has shown that exclusionary behaviors can be observed among children as young as 4 and through adolescence, and take varied forms ranging from unmitigated exclusion (e.g., "No, you cannot play with us") through indirect forms involving gestural exclusion (e.g., eye rolling, turning away, ignoring) and planful but covert behaviors (e.g., not inviting a peer). Although exclusionary behaviors are largely perceived as painful (e.g., Fänger et al., 2012; Löfdahl & Hägglund, 2006; Paquette & Underwood, 1999), they do not typically appear to involve the intent to harm (e.g., Evaldsson & Tellgren, 2009; Fänger et al., 2012). Nevertheless, researchers note that it is difficult to determine whether a behavior was intentional without directly assessing the judgments of those involved (e.g., Fänger et al., 2012; Underwood, Galen, & Paquette, 2001). Interestingly, when adolescents were asked to describe a specific incident when they had been the target of social aggression, only a small minority (16%) discussed being excluded from a group as an example of a time when someone had intended to harm them (Paquette & Underwood, 1999).

The complicated nature of peer exclusion makes it essential that we understand not only what children do, but how they think about it-that is, how they make sense of and evaluate those experiences. To date, extant research on children's thinking about exclusion has relied almost entirely on hypothetical scenarios (e.g., Horn, 2005; Killen et al., 2006) in which moral considerations (e.g., the hurt feelings of the target of exclusion) can be disentangled from social considerations (e.g., the group's legitimate goal to form a winning team). Participants, who are called to make judgments from an outsider's perspective, often give priority to one set of considerations or the other and thus judge exclusion to be unequivocally wrong or right or, at times, offer mixed judgments of the sort "excluding this kid was both wrong and right. …

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