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Children's

Peer Relations

What about Children's Peer Relations?

Understanding malleable contextual factors can help inform efforts to reduce aggressive behaviors and promote positive behaviors among children in school.  In my research, I'm interested in understanding associations between children's behavior and several different types of contextual factors including peer networks, classroom norms, and teacher practices.

Click the logo above to view a Reddit Science AMA on how preschool kids’ social networks shape their personalities & vice versa

Research on Children's Peer Relations

In past research focused on middle childhood, I have theoretically linked peer networks to relational aggression and have empirically demonstrated that certain aspects of children’s classroom network position are associated with relational aggression. Across a series of studies, my colleagues and I have found that teacher practices can potentially offset some of the negative social consequences of victimization, and are associated with academic engagement. Using longitudinal social network models, colleagues and I have also examined whether preschool children choose playmates based on temperament traits (i.e., selection) and whether preschool children's temperament traits are shaped by their playmates' temperament traits (i.e., influence). Of note, we found that children tended to select playmates with similar levels of positive emotionality. Additionally, we found that children tended to become more similar to their playmates in both positive emotionality and effortful control over time, suggesting that temperament traits develop and change based on peer relationships. In my future research, I plan to continue to investigate how networks and childhood behavior coevolve.

Selected Papers about Children's Peer Relations

Neal, J.W., & Veenstra, R. (in press). Network selection and influence effects on children’s and adolescents’ internalizing behaviors and peer victimization: A systematic review. Developmental Review. 

Neal, J.W., Durbin, C.E., Gornik, A.E., & Lo, S.L. (2017). Co-development of preschoolers’ temperament traits and social play networks over an entire school year. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 113, 627-640. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000135

Kornbluh, M. & Neal, J.W. (2016). Examining the many dimensions of children’s popularity: Interactions between aggression, prosocial behavior, and gender. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 33(1), 62-80. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407514562562

Cappella, E., Kim, H.Y., Neal, J.W., & Jackson, D. (2013). Classroom peer relationships and academic engagement in elementary school: The role of social network equity. American Journal of Community Psychology, 52, 367-379. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-013-9603-5

Cappella, E., & Neal, J.W. (2012). A classmate at your side: Classroom characteristics, peer victimization, and network connections in urban schools. School Mental Health, 4, 81-94. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-012-9072-2

​Neal, J.W., & Cappella, E. (2012). An examination of network position and childhood relational aggression:  Integrating resource control and social exchange theories. Aggressive Behavior, 38, 126-140.  https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.21414

Collaborators on Children's Peer Relations

Dr. Elise Cappella, New York University

Dr. Emily Durbin, Michigan State University

Dr. Mariah Kornbluh, University of South Carolina

© 2020 by Jennifer Watling Neal