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Children's evaluations of ambiguous provocation by relationally aggressive, physically aggressive and prosocial peers


Correspondence should be addressed to Sara Goldstein, Department of Family and Child Studies, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ 07043, USA (e-mail: Sara Goldstein is now at Montclair State University. Paul Boxer is now at Rutgers University.


The present study assessed children's evaluations of hypothetical peer provocation. Participants (N = 75, ages 8–11) were presented with hypothetical vignettes depicting relationally aggressive, physically aggressive and prosocial peers engaging in provocative behaviours directed at the participant, including (a) relational (not receiving a party invitation); (b) physical (having a beverage spilled on him/her); and (c) prosocial (being given stale snack food) provocations. Children rated the hostility of the peer's intentions and explained what they themselves would do if actually confronted with the situation. Children were more hostile in their attributions for the behaviour of relationally and physically aggressive peers as compared with the prosocial peers. Additionally, when children reported that they liked the peer, they were less likely to attribute hostility to that peer's behaviour. Results involving children's responses indicate the importance of considering peer reputation and provocation type when examining children's social problem solving. For example, very few children said that they would seek help from an adult when relationally provoked by an aggressive peer; however, in response to physical provocation from an aggressive peer, seeking the assistance of an adult was a common response.

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