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Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, VoL 12, No. 2, 1984, pp. 277'-288
A Comparison of the Social Status and SocialBehavior of Aggressive and Aggressive/WithdrawnBoys 1
Richard Milich 2
University of Iowa
Steven Landau
University of South DakotaThe purpose of this study was to clarify contradictory findings concerningthe social status of aggressive youngsters. This was undertaken by dividingkindergarten boys into either Aggressive
or Aggressive/Withdrawn[A/W] groups, as proposed by Ledingham [1981]. Both groups werefound to be high on peer-nominated rejection, but the A group was alsohigh on peer-nominated popularity while the A/W group was low.Similarly, both groups were observed to be high in negative peerinteractions, but the A group was also high in positive interactions. It wasnoted that valuable information regarding the social status and socialbehavior of aggressive youngsters would be lost if such subgrouping is notundertaken. The relationship between Ledingham's categorizations andothers reported in the literature was discussed.
Recently, there has been a rejuvenation of interest in the study of peerrelations, encouraged by research documenting that poor peer relations, orpeer rejection, is a powerful predictor of negative adult outcome. Cowen,Pederson, Babigian, Izzo, and Trost (1973) found that sociometric ratingsby third-grade peers was a better predictor of adult psychiatric disturbancethan a diversified battery including school records, intellectual per-formance, and self-report data. These rejection-nominations proved to be
Manuscript received in final form September 19, 1983.'This research was supported in part by NIH grant No. 32992 to the first author.2Address
correspondence to Richard Milich, Department of Psychiatry, University ofIowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.23'7
0091-0627/84/0600-0277$03.50/0 :c3 1984 Plenum Publishing Corporation
278 Milich and Landau
an even better predictor of poor adult outcome than teacher and clinicianjudgments. Other investigators have found poor peer relations to predict avariety of negative outcomes, including psychiatric difficulties (Roff, 1963;West & Farrington, 1973), dropping out of school (Ullmann, 1957), juveniledelinquency (West & Farrington, 1973), bad conduct discharges frommilitary service (Roff, 1961), and job dismissals and trouble with the law(Janes, Hesselbrock, Myers, & Penniman, 1979). Apparently, havingnegative social status as a school-age child places one at great risk for bothadolescent and adult outcome difficulties.It has been discussed elsewhere (Milich & Landau, 1982) that researchinto the antecedents and consequences of poor peer relations might beenhanced if "at-risk" children are targeted as the population of interest.Intuitively, one would speculate that aggressive children are symptomatic ofsignificant peer problems and thus constitute just such an at-risk group.However, results are equivocal, with some studies finding them toexperience peer problems (Green, Beck, Forehand, & Vosk, 1980), whereasother studies have actually found them to earn some degree of positivereputation or popularity (Lesser, 1959; Marshall & McCandless, 1957;Olweus, 1978).Two explanations for these ambiguous findings can be suggested. Itappears that researchers have been somewhat careless in their efforts todifferentiate popularity and rejection measures, even though it has beenconsistently demonstrated that differences do exist between these two socialstatus variables (e.g., Goldman, Corsini, & deUrioste, 1980). A series ofstudies (e.g., Glow & Glow, 1980; Gottman, Gonso, & Rasmussen, 1975;Ledingham, Younger, Schwartzman, & Bergeron, 1982; Olweus, 1978)found no relationship between aggression and social status when popularitydefined the latter variable. If rejection was considered, however, aggressiondid relate to social status (Green et al., 1980: Milich, Landau Kilby, &Whitten, 1982). It appears that aggression is consistently associated with highrejection scores, whereas equivocal findings appear when the relationshipbetween popularity and aggression is examined (see Dodge, Coie, & Brakke,1982, for a discussion of this issue).A second possible explanation for the equivocal relationship betweensocial status and aggression relates to the criteria employed for subjectselection. Evidence has recently appeared suggesting that there may be at leasttwo distinct groups of aggressive children and that these groups differ interms of social status. For example, Ledingham (1981) examined a likabilitymeasure from the Pupil Evaluation Inventory (PEI, Pekarik, Prinz,Liebert, Weintraub, & Neale, 1976) for four identified groups ofyoungsters: Aggressive (A), Withdrawn (W), Aggressive/Withdrawn
(A/W), and Control (C). Peer-nominated likeability was significantly lowerfor the A/W group than for either the A or C groups. The latter two groupswere quite comparable in their likability scores. The PEI Likability scale,although not a direct measure of peer-nominated popularity, seems mostclosely related to this aspect of social status. Ledingham did not offer anydata bearing on rejection scores among the four identified groups.A second line of evidence, albeit indirect, for the social statusdifferences of aggressive youngsters can be seen in a recent study by Cole,Dodge, and Coppotelli (1982). On the basis of popularity and rejectionnominations, five groups of children were identified: Popular, Rejected,Neglected, Average, and Controversial. Of particular interest is thedistinction between Rejected and Controversial children. The former weredefined by high rejection scores and low popularity scores, while the latterreceived high scores on both social status dimensions. Classroomobservations revealed that both groups were high on class disruptions andfighting, but the Controversial group was significantly higher than theRejected group in terms of observed cooperative behavior and leadership.Thus, although aggressive children were not specifically identified, the Coieet al. data suggest that at least two groups of aggressive boys can bedifferentiated. These groups are indistinguishable in terms of peer rejectionbut can be distinguished, as Ledingham (1981) discovered, in terms ofpopularity.This study was designed to elucidate the relationship that aggressionhas with social status and social behavior bY comparing popularity andrejection nominations and observed social behavior as they relate toLedingham's (1981) conceptualization of A and A/W boys. It washypothesized that the two groups would be indistinguishable regardingpeer-nominated rejection and observed negative interactions, but that theA/W group would also be less popular and would be observed engaging insignificantly fewer positive social interactions.A second purpose was to further clarify the actual nature ofLedingham's A/W group. Although formed by high scores on bothpeer-nominated aggression and social withdrawal items, this group may besimilar in description to Loney and Milich's (1982) hyperactive/aggressive(H/A) boys. Specifically, Ledingham reports her A/W group to haveproblems in distractibility and sustaining attention, finishing tasks, anddelaying responses. These are all characteristics typically attributed tohyperactive youngsters. To address this question, teacher ratings ofhyperactivity were compared for the four groups under investigation. It washypothesized that the A/W group would be significantly more symptomaticof teacher-rated hyperactivity than either the A, W, or C groups.

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