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Network Perception

Why Network Perception?

People differ in the extent to which they are attuned to the social relationships around them. Some people are very accurate in their perceptions of social networks, while other people are widely inaccurate.  These network perceptions may be important predictors of behavior and psychosocial outcomes, and may help people more successfully navigate their social worlds.  I'm interested in using cognitive social structures to examine children's and teachers' perceptions of classroom social networks.

Research on Network Perception
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Click the logo above to listen to me talk about my research on children's network perceptions The Academic Minute

My research suggests that variation in teacher-student agreement on classroom social networks can be explained, in part, by developmental factors (e.g., grade level), classroom characteristics (e.g., size) and teacher practices (e.g., classroom organization).  This is important because past research suggests that teachers who are attuned to their students’ relationships may be better able to monitor bullying and facilitate positive behaviors in their classrooms. Colleagues and I have also explored whether children accurately perceive classroom peer relationships in middle childhood. For example, we found that children correctly infer their classmates’ friends about 80% of the time, but that their inferences overestimate the importance of gender. Although using gender as a cue provides an easy cognitive shortcut for making inferences about others’ friendships, it can lead to errors in judgment, which can compromise children’s ability to navigate classroom peer relationships. We also found that children varied substantially in the accuracy of their perceptions of classroom relationships. Some children (i.e., girls, children in higher grades, and children in smaller classrooms) were more accurate observers of classroom relationships than others. Moreover, certain classroom relationships (i.e., those that involved same gender, high popularity, or similar popularity peers) were more accurately observed. In the future, I'd like to extend my work in this area from cross-sectional to longitudinal studies in order to understand how network perceptions of classroom relationships develop over time.

Selected Papers about Network Perception

Neal, J.W., Neal, Z.P., & Cappella, E. (2016). Seeing and being seen: Predictors of accurate perceptions about classmates’ relationships. Social Networks, 44, 1-8.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socnet.2015.07.002

Neal, J.W., Neal, Z.P., & Cappella, E. (2014). I know who my friends are, but do you? Predictors of self-reported and peer-inferred relationships. Child Development, 85(4), 1366-1372. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12194

Neal, J.W., & Cappella, E. (2014). The bright side of positive perceptual bias: Children’s estimations of network centrality and aggression. Aggressive Behavior, 40, 140-151. https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.21511

Cappella, E., Neal, J.W., & Sahu, N. (2012). Children’s agreement on classroom social networks: Cross-level predictors in urban elementary schools. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 58(3), 285-313. https://doi.org/10.1353/mpq.2012.0017

Neal, J.W., Cappella, E., Wagner, C., & Atkins, M.S. (2011). Seeing eye to eye: Predicting teacher-student agreement on classroom social networks. Social Development, 20(2), 376-393. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9507.2010.00582.x

Collaborators on Network Perception

Dr. Elise Cappella, New York University

Dr. Zachary Neal, Michigan State University

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© 2020 by Jennifer Watling Neal