The Relation between Behavior Problems and Peer Preference in Different Classroom Contexts

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Abstract

This study tested two alternative hypotheses regarding the relations between child behavior and peer preference. The first hypothesis is generated from the person–group similarity model, which predicts that the acceptability of social behaviors will vary as a function of peer group norms. The second hypothesis is generated by the social skill model, which predicts that behavioral skill deficiencies reduce and behavioral competencies enhance peer preference. A total of 2895 children in 134 regular first-grade classrooms participated in the study. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to compare four different behaviors as predictors of peer preference in the context of classrooms with varying levels of these behavior problems. The results of the study supported both predictive models, with the acceptability of aggression and withdrawal varying across classrooms (following a person–group similarity model) and the effects of inattentive/hyperactive behavior (in a negative direction) and prosocial behavior (in a positive direction) following a social skill model and remaining constant in their associations with peer preference across classrooms. Gender differences also emerged, with aggression following the person–group similarity model for boys more strongly than for girls. The effects of both child behaviors and the peer group context on peer preference and on the trajectory of social development are discussed.

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