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Social Competence in Children

Kenneth A. Dodge, Gregory S. Pettit, Cynthia L. McClaskey, Melissa M. Brown and John M. Gottman
Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development
Vol. 51, No. 2, Social Competence in Children (1986), pp. i+iii+v-vi+1-85
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1165906
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1165906
Page Count: 89
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Social Competence in Children
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Abstract

The goals of this research were to develop a model of social exchange in children and to test hypotheses proposed in the model concerning the strength of relations between social information-processing patterns and social behavior. This model conceptualized social behavior as a function of the child's processing of a set of social environmental cues. It was posited that this processing occurs in five separable sequential steps, including the encoding of social cues, the mental representation of those cues, the accessing of potential behavioral responses, the evaluation and selection of an optimal response, and the enactment of that response. It was hypothesized that skillful processing at each step increases the probability that a child will behave in a manner that is judged to be competent by peers and adults and that increments in prediction will accrue from measures of each processing step. It was further hypothesized that peers' judgments of a child would be based on their processing of that child's behavior and that this processing would influence their behavior toward that child. Two studies evaluated these and other hypotheses derived from the proposed model. In Study I, socially competent and incompetent (as assessed by teachers and peers) kindergarten through second-grade children (N = 43) were presented with videotaped stimuli designed to assess patterns of processing social information about a particular social domain, that of peer group entry. In a separate session, children were asked to participate in an actual peer group entry task with two peers from their classroom. Measures of each of the five steps of processing were found to predict children's competence and success at this behavioral task, with unique increments in prediction being provided by several steps of processing. A child's performance at peer group entry significantly predicted peers' judgments of him or her, and those judgments, in turn, significantly predicted the peers' behavior toward that child. Each of these findings supported the proposed model. Study 2 was a replication of these findings with samples of well-adjusted and clinically referred aggressive second- through fourth-grade boys and girls (N = 79) and an extension to a second social domain, that of responding to a provocation by peers. Assessments of the five steps of processing were conducted as in Study 1, for each of two social domains (peer group entry and responding to a provocation). Children also participated in a peer group entry task and were exposed to an actual provocation by a peer. Observations of children's naturally occurring peer group entry and aggressive behavior in the classroom and on the playground were also conducted. The group entry processing variables significantly predicted a child's competence at actual group entry, both in the laboratory task and on the playground; the provocation processing variables did not predict group entry behavior. On the other hand, the provocation processing variables significantly predicted the aggressiveness of a child's behavioral response to the actual provocation, whereas the group entry processing variables did not. These findings supported a domain-specific model of the relation between social information-processing patterns and social behavior. Study 2 also replicated other patterns of Study 1, in that peers based their judgments of a child on that child's behavioral competence at group entry, and their behavior toward that child could be predicted from their judgments of the child. Together, these studies provide support for a reciprocal influence model of the relation between social information-processing patterns and children's social behavior.

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