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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Understanding early adolescents' social behaviours and relationships with peers Closson, Leanna Mary


Hawley (1999) proposed that the ability to consider one’s own characteristics in relation to the characteristics of interaction partners is an adaptive social skill in guiding the use of prosocial or aggressive behaviour. Although research has shown that social status is associated with aggression and prosocial behaviour generally, we know very little about how youths’ behaviours directed toward certain types of peers (e.g., friends vs. nonfriends; popular vs. unpopular peers) vary as a function of their own social status. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate variability in early adolescents’ aggressive and prosocial behaviours across peer targets and determine whether higher status youth behave differently toward specific types of peers as compared to lower status youth. Early adolescents in grades 6 through 8 (N = 426) completed self-report measures assessing how often they engaged in aggressive or prosocial behaviours toward each participating peer in their grade. Participants also completed self-report measures assessing their relationship with each grademate (i.e., friendship, liking) in addition to peer-report measures of three indices of social status (i.e., social preference/likeability, perceived popularity, social dominance). Results showed that, regardless of their own social status, early adolescents varied their behaviours toward different types of peers to some degree. However, high and low status youth often behaved differently toward certain types of peers. Importantly, a distinct pattern of findings was apparent for each index of social status. Among the findings, the results showed that popular, but not unpopular, youth reported more prosocial and aggressive behaviours toward popular and personally liked peers than toward unpopular and personally disliked peers. Well-accepted, but not rejected, youth reported engaging in prosocial behaviours toward a variety of peers in addition to greater relational aggression toward friends than nonfriends. Finally, dominant, but not subordinate, youth reported greater aggression toward dominant than subordinate peers. The present study has demonstrated the value of examining multiple social status indices and of considering toward whom youth direct their aggressive and prosocial behaviours to obtain a richer understanding of the complex social processes involved in the early adolescent peer group.

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