Observational Research on Peer Status and Coping with Angry Provocation

One serious limitation of the described research is that it relies heavily on children's responses to hypothetical vignettes, rather than on how children behave when actually confronted with angry provocation. To try to observe more directly how children behave when angry, we developed a laboratory method to provoke a mild degree of anger in participants in the age range of middle childhood (Underwood, Hurley, Johanson, & Mosley, 1999). Children in this study participated in a laboratory play session during which they played a competitive computer game for a desirable prize, with a same gender confederate thought to be another participant but in reality a child actor. During a 10-minute contest period, participant children were provoked in two ways: The computer game was rigged so that the participant child lost most of the rounds and the child actor was trained to make provoking comments as he or she won the game rounds. Data collection with over 500 children indicates that this experience is moderately provoking, but not harmful because we debrief children carefully and embed this 10-minute provoking period in a 1 hour-long play session that is predominantly positive.

The goals of this research included examining developmental and gender differences in anger expression, and also the relation between coping with peer provocation and peer social status at school and peer nominations for aggression. This summary will focus on the findings related to peer status and gender. Based on preliminary research, it was hypothesized that popular peer status would be associated with responding verbally to peer provocation for boys, but to keeping quiet for girls. Popular boys were predicted to respond to teasing with humorous or distracting comments. Popular children were expected to be more skillful in responding to provocation; they were predicted to assert their own needs appropriately but not to overreact in ways that would earn them scorn from their peers or disdain from their teachers. Rejected children were expected to be less skillful in responding to provocation; they would be less likely to assert their feelings verbally, and more likely to respond angrily or perhaps not to respond at all.

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