Affective Dynamics of Rejected Children in Triadic Peer Interactions in Early Childhood
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Entry into elementary school marks the beginning of a crucial shift in the amount and quality of time that children spend with their peers (Coie & Dodge, 1988). For many 5-year olds, kindergarten provides the opportunity to encounter their first stable peer group. It is in the context of these interactions that children practice essential social skills, as well as develop a capacity to interact with others. For various reasons, however, many children have difficulty gaining acceptance into fundamental peer groups. For these children, the opportunities for peer interactions present in the early school years are limited and often characterized by a high degree of aggressive affect (Coie & Dodge, 1988). Although previous research has reliably identified the individual affective states characteristic of rejected children during a typical peer interaction (Newcomb, Bukowski, & Pattee, 1993), it should be kept in mind that these expressions are embedded within a larger peer context, which plays an important role in how these dynamic processes unfold in real time (O’Connell, Pepler, & Craig, 1999). The purpose of the present study was to explore the application of a dynamic systems (DS) technique, state space grids (SSG), to the study of kindergarten peer processes and their impact on long-term psychopathology. Participants were 267 kindergarten children from a single school serving a predominantly low socioeconomic neighbourhood. In order to examine the social dynamics of interacting triads, moment-to-moment changes in affect were documented. Parent and teacher ratings of child conduct problems were also obtained at four measurement points. Consistent with previous research, both controversial and rejected children were more likely to express aggressive affect. Differential effects across sociometric groups were also replicated for both externalizing and internalizing ratings, where rejected children were found to have significantly higher scores. Extending upon past research, the expression of particular triadic affective states were found to differ significantly across sociometric groups. Furthermore, specific triadic affective states were found to be related to the developmental trajectories of clinical outcomes. Overall, results of the present study extend previous findings on the expression of individual affective states through the application of DS principles and methodology.