Future Directions

Research on peer relations in middle childhood continues to flourish and our understanding of children's friendships, social networks and peer social status is becoming increasingly sophisticated and complex. More and more, studies of peer relations are examining gender differences in the functions and social processes of children's peer groups, and these studies will benefit from being guided by Two Cultures Theory to test its claims with different age groups and using multiple methods (Underwood, 2003). Two Cultures theorists have emphasized differences in girls' and boys' peer cultures (see Mac-coby, 1998, for an overview), mostly on the basis of laboratory studies with preschool children and ethnographic evidence with older samples. Peer relations researchers have found less dramatic gender differences, but this may be due to relying mostly on studies with larger samples of older children, using questionnaire and peer reports to measure friendships, networks, and peer status. Peer relations and gender scholars share an interest in testing the claims of Two Cultures Theory with diverse age groups and multiple measures, to understand whether and how girls and boys might grow up in different peer cultures, and what the developmental consequences of this might be.

Peer relations researchers are also paying increasing attention to the importance of emotions (see Lemerise & Arsenio, 2000, for a model of social information processing that integrates emotions) and using increasingly sophisticated methods to understand gender differences in how children experience and express emotions (Cole, Martin, & Dennis, 2004; Hubbard et al., 2002). Exploring how girls and boys regulate emotions in their same-gender interactions (and occasional other-gender encounters) may enrich Two Cultures Theory and help us understand why subtle differences may matter a great deal.

Our research group is pursuing three research directions that we believe will augment our understanding of peer relations in middle childhood. We seek to learn more about gender and aggression, developmental origins of social aggression, especially family relationships, and processes by which peers influence one another. In each of these areas of inquiry, we will be guided by Two Cultures Theory in that we seek to understand how social processes may unfold differently for girls and for boys (Maccoby, 2004).

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