Negative gestures

1.89 a

2.16 a

3.91 b

5.24, p < .01

Note. Within rows, means not sharing subscripts differ at p < .05.

Note. Within rows, means not sharing subscripts differ at p < .05.

this subtlety of individual differences seems even more likely for outward expressions of emotion which are probably heavily influenced by children's efforts to present themselves positively. Children master verbal display rules before facial display rules (Gnepp & Hess, 1986), suggesting that masking nonverbal expressions of emotion might be more challenging. That rejected children differed on overt physical expressions of emotion confirms that it may be important for intervention programs for improving the social relations of rejected children to focus more on helping children master their nonverbal expressions of emotion.

Other results suggested that the rejected children with the most extreme problems with anger regulation may not have been able to tolerate the play session and may have stopped participating because they were upset, and before they became very angry. Chi-square analyses indicated a significant difference between peer status groups in stopping the play session, and rejected children were far more likely to stop (12 of 66; 18%, %2 = 8.35, p < .05) than popular (3 of 58; 5%) or average (6 of 87; 7%) children. Ethical considerations forced us to make it easy for children to stop the contest if they wanted, but this provision means we may have missed the opportunity to see the most dramatic angry expressions. Rejected children appeared to stop the sessions when they felt frustrated, which may have been their way of trying to regulate strong negative affect by extricating themselves from the situation. Had they been forced to continue the play sessions, we believe that we might have seen more of the extremely angry behavior that may contribute to rejected children being intensely disliked at school.

The results of this laboratory study may also have underestimated peer status group differences in coping with angry provocation because rejected children were provoked by peers whom they had never met. If rejected children had been interacting with particular types of familiar peers, status group differences might have been much more evident. Much aggressive behavior takes place within dyads of children, in which a relationship develops over time within which one or both children fight frequently (Coie et al., 1999). To fully understand the emotion regulation behaviors of children disliked by peers, it may be important to observe them in dyadic interactions with another child with whom they have a history of social difficulties.

To understand fully rejected children's capacity for emotion regulation, it may be important to observe them with known children in familiar environments. However, the methodological challenges of this would be considerable. Observing naturally occurring emotion-provoking episodes would require many hours, and older children might well be skillful in hiding the most important interactions from view. Creating a conflict between two known peers in the lab raises serious ethical questions, because researchers would be manipulating an ongoing relationship for a child with peer problems, in an age range during which peer interactions matter enormously.

Overall, the findings from this laboratory study suggest that in this particular context, rejected children seem as capable of controlling their verbal reactions to provocation as their popular and average peers, but perhaps less able to regulate their gestural responses. Regardless of peer status, girls tended to respond less negatively to provocation than boys did, though gender differences were not large in magnitude. This study focused entirely on coping with same-gender provocation. How do children respond when challenged or provoked by peers of the other gender?

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