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Among the most significant developmental goals of childhood is peer acceptance. Positive interactions with peers provide opportunities for socialization and promote children’s sense of self-worth and belonging. Research indicates, however, that significant numbers of children remain friendless. This social rejection has been correlated with other indicators of maladjustment, such as impaired academic performance, behavior problems, and emotional disorders. Psychologists have therefore become increasingly concerned with the detection and treatment of children who have few friends and are disliked by their peers.

Investigation of the problem depends on accurate identification of the personality and behavioral characteristics of peer-rejected children. It is important to clarify the distinction between peer-rejected and peer-neglected children. According to French and Waas, rejected children “have few friends and are actively disliked by others” while neglected children “have few friends, but are not disliked by their peers”. Neglected children are simply ignored. In essence, rejected children tend to be isolated by the peer group, while neglected children appear to be isolated from their peers.


Cillessen, van Uzendoom, van Lieshout, and Hartup, estimate that between 10 and 20% of children are ‘not liked’ by their peers. Waas estimated that 13% of children are categorized as rejected, while Pettit, Clawson, Dodge, and Bates similarly found that 12% of both kindergarten and first grade samples fit this category. Research on the prevalence of peer-rejection, however, is complicated by the fact that these children comprise a heterogeneous group. According to Waas, the largest subgroup of rejected children includes those who ‘manifest high levels of aversive behavior’. French and Waas also report that the majority of rejected children display ‘aversive and domineering’ behavior toward peers. Other rejected children exhibit poor conduct toward authority figures, extreme or hostile social withdrawal, self-control difficulties, or ‘seriously disturbed behavior’. Another subgroup may include children who demonstrate relatively appropriate behavior, but who experience deficits such as low IQ, physical disabilities, or low attractiveness.

French emphasizes the heterogeneity of peer-rejected boys. In his research, two distinct clusters of rejected boys emerged. About 50% of rejected boys exhibited an aggressive behavior profile. Boys in this group displayed high levels of aggression, behavior problems, anxiety, and withdrawal compared to peers. Teachers also rated them as “lacking in self-control, exhibiting deficits in work concentration and academic motivation, and displaying increased hostile isolation”. These children’s scores on measures of aggression and total disability corresponded to a normative percentile ranking between 89 and 99. Cillessen et al., add that these boys are typically “impulsive, disruptive, dishonest, hypersensitive, and non-cooperative”.

Boys in the second cluster exhibited withdrawal without the concurrent behavior difficulties. These children exhibited high self control, social withdrawal, and introversion. According to French, this subgroup of rejected children also appears low in ‘ego resiliency’, a construct that incorporates “the ability to get along with others, personal competence, and cooperativeness”. Children with this profile experience difficulty adapting to stress, and appear inhibited, anxious, and reserved. In addition, these children display inappropriate affect and behavioral mannerisms, indicating that their difficulties in peer relationships may result from social incompetence more than lack of control or high aggression.

Silva proposes that differences in self perceptions and attributions of social situations influence the varying behavioral profile of peer rejected children. Silva categorized rejected children into two distinct groups – externalizing and internalizing – and then compared their self-perceptions to those of popular status children. Results indicated that rejected-internalizing subjects reported lower self-perceptions than the other groups. These children were more likely to withdraw if they attributed rejection to internal, stable, and negative causes, such as their own personal weaknesses. In contrast, rejected-externalizing subjects were more likely to act aggressively if they attributed rejection to external causes, such as hostility from peers. Additionally, Boivin, Poulin, and Vitaro found that aggressive-rejected children recognized their inappropriate behavior, but did not perceive themselves as less accepted by their peers. This suggests that they are unaware of or unwilling to admit their low popularity, which may moderate their vulnerability to withdrawal and internalizing problems.

Earlier research on peer rejection typically focused on boys or on combined male and female samples without assessing sex differences. Considering sex differences in the nature of social interactions and friendships during childhood, exploration of the profiles of peer-rejected girls seems appropriate. French investigated the characteristics of peer-rejected girls and found heterogeneity within this population as well. Again, two clusters of girls emerged, with one more deviant than the other. The larger group consisted of girls low in self-control and high in peer-rated aggression, social withdrawal, and overall behavior problems. The more troubled group demonstrated even higher levels of withdrawal, anxiety, hostile isolation, and academic disability. In contrast to findings for peer rejected boys, aggression scores did not differentiate the two groups. Rather, varying levels of internalizing disorders seemed to discriminate the two subgroups of peer-rejected girls.

Identification and Assessment

Peer-rejected children are frequently identified through peer sociometric measures. Researchers ask children to specify classmates with whom they most (positive) and least (negative) like to interact. Children are then classified into categories such as popular (high positive, low negative), neglected (low positive, low negative), rejected (low positive, high negative), controversial (high positive, high negative), or average (no extreme on positive or negative). Researchers may also utilize a 5-point Likert-type scale that assesses preferences for classmates. Children complete a scale ranging from a smiling face to a frowning face to indicate the extent to which they like to play with a particular child. Both peer sociometric nominations and rating scales consistently emerge as the most accurate indicators of rejected status.

Teacher ratings have also been investigated as a method of identifying children who experience problems with peer relations. Here, the School Behavior Checklist (Miller, 1977) is frequently employed. This scale yields scores for a child’s need for achievement, hostile isolation (holding grudges, refusing to speak if angry, lacking friends), aggression, anxiety (withdrawal and manifest anxiety), extraversion, and academic disability. French and Waas assessed teachers’ ability to identify children who experience peer rejection. While significant correlations between teacher ratings and peer sociometric nominations emerged, teachers reported a substantial number of false negatives and false positives. Teachers were successful in recognizing students with the most severe peer relationship difficulties, but they often failed to identify a number of moderately rejected children. Further, they misclassified a number of non-rejected children. Results also indicated that teachers detected peer rejection in children exhibiting more academic and behavior difficulties. Thus, it appears that teachers may not recognize the more subtle indicators of certain students’ peer social status.

Child self-reports and parent rating scales, such as the Child Behavior Checklist, are useful in assessing a child’s involvement in activities, social competence, school performance, and internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. In addition, direct observation of the child may enhance identification of peer relationship difficulties. French recommends the observation of children during peer interactions at school to examine displays of positive, negative, and neutral behaviors. Here, positive behaviors included help-giving, sharing, smiling, cooperation, compliance with peer requests, or complimenting. Negative behaviors included rejection of peers’ ideas, refusal to participate, teasing, arguing, physical or verbal aggression, or denial of privilege. Neutral behaviors included parallel play or conversation. French additionally coded isolate behavior, such as solitary play or onlooker activity. In cases of peer rejection, children typically demonstrate a higher frequency of negative and isolate behaviors.

Etiology and Developmental Course

Compared to neglected, popular, and average children, peer-rejected children typically experience the most concurrent problems. First, rejected children appear to exhibit deficits in social skills. Cillessen et al., tested rejected children’s knowledge of interpersonal problem-solving skills by showing them pictures of different social dilemmas. Children were then instructed to generate as many different solutions to the problems as possible. Responses were scored based on the number of unique solutions and the effectiveness of each solution. According to the authors, both moderately and severely rejected children generated extreme problem-solving norms, either prosocial or antisocial. Peers may, therefore, view rejected children as ‘goody-goodies’ or ‘sour apples’.

Toner and Munro studied the peer social attributions of rejected preadolescents. Hypothetical social interactions were presented to assess causal internality, stability, and perceived control. Results indicated that rejected children were more likely than their peers to demonstrate a maladaptive explanatory style. These children tended to deny credit for acceptance, attribute rejection to persistent factors, and perceive lower control of events. Rejected children were more likely to attribute peer acceptance to unstable, external factors and peer rejection to internal, stable factors. However, it is debatable whether the observed social skills deficits are causes or consequences of peer- rejected status. For example, rejected children’s failure in social situations might reduce their perceived self-competence. This promotes a learned helplessness that exacerbates social maladjustment and isolation. These findings suggest that rejected children exhibit an explanatory style that maintains or increases expectancies for future peer rejection.

Ratings by peers, parents, and teachers indicate that rejected children show an increased incidence of behavior and personality disorders. French and Waas reported that on both teacher and parent rating scales, rejected children were found to exhibit more behavior problems than neglected, popular, or average children. Hyperactivity, antisocial behavior, and academic difficulties seem to be largely associated with peer-rejected status. The authors also found that rejected children exhibit comparatively high levels of aggression, task inappropriate behavior, and solitary play.

Several studies have examined the relation between peer rejection and internalizing problems. French and Waas found that rejected children displayed higher levels of anxiety compared to their peers. This elevated anxiety may indicate early symptoms of internalizing disorders. Boivin et al. compared the depression profile of rejected, neglected, and average children. As predicted, both aggressive and non-aggressive rejected children expressed stronger feelings of depression, as well as more loneliness and social dissatisfaction than the normative group. Peers also rated them as getting their feelings hurt easily and as being unusually sad. Withdrawn children viewed themselves as less competent and less accepted by their peers.

Boivin et al. suggest that the reported feelings of depression in withdrawn-rejected children may reflect an underlying dimension of ‘dispositional inhibition and insecurity’. The authors propose that early temperamental (i.e., arousal threshold), socialization (i.e., parenting style), and relational (i.e., insecure attachment) factors may cause behavioral inhibition, which leads to social withdrawal and peer rejection. Rejection and withdrawal interact to form a self-perpetuating cycle of distress and increasing social isolation. Pettit et al. examined the influence of child temperament, parenting, and family ecology on peer-rejected status. Rejected children were more likely to come from low socioeconomic backgrounds and from families with harsh, restrictive discipline styles. In addition, these children’s families reported higher levels of life stress. Children with this profile were more aggressive and less socially and academically skilled than their peers. Pettit et al. therefore concluded that economic disadvantage might provide a risk factor for peer rejection in early childhood.

Longitudinal research indicates that peer-rejected children often continue to encounter rejection by peers over time. This places them at an increased risk for development of adjustment difficulties and clinical disorders during adolescence and adulthood. These include delinquency, suicide, and mental health disorders.

Wads reported that rejected children tend to have higher scores on the Hostile-Isolation subscale of the School Behavior Checklist. This finding seems particularly troubling as research indicates that children who exhibit both aggression and withdrawal are at an especially high risk for later pathology. Parker and Asher evaluated three indexes of problematic peer relationships (acceptance, aggressiveness, and shyness/ withdrawal) as predictors of three developmental outcomes (dropping out of school, criminality, and psychopathology). The authors found a relation between poor peer adjustment in childhood and increased prevalence of later school drop out and criminality. Low peer acceptance and high aggressiveness serve as strong predictors of these later difficulties, while shyness/withdrawal did not necessarily lead to later maladjustment.

It should be noted, however, that only some rejected children continue to be rejected by peers from year to year. Research implicates the role of aggressive behavior as a mediating factor in the maintenance of peer rejection. Wads found that a greater percentage of rejected children were aggressive in a third-grade sample than in a fifth grade sample. Since aggression tends to decrease with age, a developmental shift in the causes of rejection emerges, with aggression playing a more influential role in early childhood. Therefore, as a child ages, peers may view continued aggression as increasingly deviant, prompting greater peer rejection. Children who do not display this aversive behavior style may experience improvements in peer social status.

Cillessen et al. discuss the differential stability of social rejection over time for subgroups of rejected children. According to the authors, only 40% to 50% of rejected children remain so from year to year, and only 35% remain rejected over longer periods. Subjects in the sample were assessed on measures of aggression, shyness, perceived self-regard, social problem solving, and size of mutual liking network on two occasions, one year apart. Results indicated that the aggressive-rejected children remained rejected over time more frequently than other subgroups. This may be due to the fact that their aggressive and disruptive behavior persisted. These children were increasingly likely to receive negative treatment from other children, and were less likely to encounter opportunities for engaging in cooperative exchanges and intimate interactions with peers. One can expect that these children will continue to have few friends, or that their available companions may consist of primarily other “unskilled, rejected, and antisocial children”.

Whether other sociometrically categorized children, such as neglected children, maintain their problematic place among peers is less certain. Little evidence suggests that neglected children face serious risk for later adjustment and behavior disorders. Although these children have few friends or enemies, they appear to be accepted by peers and are not actively disliked. Compared to rejected children, neglected children consistently obtain less deviant ratings by peers. In fact, French and Wads report that neglected children are often indistinguishable from children of average status on many behavioral dimensions. Neglected children are characterized as shy, and tend to engage in more solitary play than average or popular children, but their peer status is more likely to improve over time.

Overt Behavior

One of the goals of any clinical intervention is to restore social competence. Social competence is most easily defined as capability equal to expectation. If a child performs socially in a manner that meets the expectations of child managers and peers, s/he is usually considered to be socially competent.

It follows, therefore, that the nature and frequency of behavior patterns is often used to define social competence. While it is accepted that a focus on overt behaviors per se is necessary, it is not in itself a sufficient, defining characteristic of social competence. Nonetheless, in order to develop indicators for measuring competence requirements, educators and clinicians will need to address the use measures of overt behaviors as criterion.

Several areas of observation can be defined by the research. For example, it has been suggested that social competence is reflected in the manner in which children secure adult attention and how they utilize adults as resources. Other behaviors found to reflect a child’s social competence are the ability to express emotions, including hostility and affection, appropriately, to lead and follow peers, to imitate both adults and peers, and to show pride in accomplishment.

Much can be learned by focusing upon the frequency of social contacts and the sequence of communications within these interactions. Ratings of children’s behavior are found to relate positively to sociometric peer ratings of popularity (one way of operationalizing social competence). Thus, not only the frequency, but the quality of a child’s social interactions can be used to measure social competence.

Specifically, one might look at, and record, the amount of time a child spends alone, observing peers, and interacting with peers and adults such as teachers or parents. These interactions can also be coded as involving cooperative, affectionate, compliant/ noncompliant, derogatory, or attacking behavior. Behavioral ratings, therefore, are significantly related to sociometric ratings.

In an investigation of the social interactions of omega children (i.e., children chosen last for athletic teams during play periods at school), Ginsberg, Wauson, and Easley (1977) examined the following aspects of the behavior of these children:

(1) their spatial proximity to other children;
(2) the amount of physical contact with others;
(3) the frequency of aggressive episodes; and
(4) the child’s location in relation to the rest of the group.

The results indicated that omega children were generally peripheral to the stream of ongoing activity. Not only were they isolated in location, but they also engaged in fewer physical and athletic encounters as compared with higher ranking children.

Nonverbal behaviors (such as facial expressions, gestures, gaze, spatial behavior, nonverbal aspects of speech, bodily contact and appearance), as well as verbal acts (e.g., instructions, questions, comments, informal chatting, performance utterances, social routines, and the expression of emotional states, attitudes, and latent messages) have also come under study.

In similar fashion, other studies have examined teacher expectations. Thomas Good defines such expectations as “inferences that teachers make about the future behavior of their students, based on what they know about the students now”. Two types of teacher expectation effects have surfaced: self-fulfilling prophecy and sustaining expectations. Self-fulfilling prophecy effects are based on expectations that lead teachers to behave toward a student in ways that may be damaging to that student’s learning. Sustaining expectations effects occur more frequently. Here the teacher assumes that student performance will remain the same as in the past and teacher behavior sustains that level rather than helping to move the student beyond it.

Teacher interaction with students is influecned by these expectations, particularly in how the teacher asks questions, gives feedback and expresses personal regard. Such behaviors may be well intentioned. For example, in order to avoid embarassing the student a teacher may refrain from asking perceived low achievement students challenging questions.

The Teacher Expectation and Student Achievement [TESA] model actually indicates the following interaction pattterns between teachers and those students they believe are low achievers:

Response Opportunities

  • non-equitable distribution
  • less individual help
  • less time to respond
  • less delving into responses
  • less higher level questioning


  • fewer affirmations or corrections
  • less praise
  • fewer reasons for praise when given
  • less listening
  • less acceptance of student feelings

Personal Regard

  • greater spacial proximity
  • less courtesy
  • less personal interest and fewer compliments
  • less touching
  • more domination around conflict

It should be noted that the attitudes of teachers and students are generally interactive. If teachers have low expectations for a child and behave in the typical manner, it is likely that the students will also identify the child as an omega.

The ability to draw upon a varied repertoire of socially appropriate behaviors pursuant to goal attainment may be considered to be an important feature of social competence. However, as stated previously, a focus on overt behaviors per se is a necessary, but not a sufficient, defining characteristic of social competence. We must take into account the role of an individual’s thoughts and cognitions in any definition of social competence. The import and content of specific overt behavior are minimized as compared to their meaning to the actor and recipient. It is not sufficient that the child experiences these behaviors from their peers and teachers, but we must identify how they explain these behaviors.

Cognitive Processes

Cognitive processes include the diversity of thoughts and styles of information processing that occur when an individual is confronted with a social situation. These include the internal dialogue, or self talk, that accompanies behavior and reflects the individual’s thoughts and feelings about the situation and/or him/herself, the expectancies with which the individual approaches the situation and his/her appraisal of situational or personal outcomes, as well as the amount and nature of the social information that the individual possesses about the situation.

Some form of cognitive processing takes place in all social situations. The individual may be highly aware of these cognitive processes on occasion (as, for example, in the case of an anxious, self deprecating internal dialogue with which the individual is preoccupied to the detriment of social behavior, or in the case of intentional impression management). However, cognitive processing frequently operates in a highly automatic, thoughtless or scripted fashion. In this case expectancies or thoughts that subtly control behavior are not particularly salient for the individual at the time but can be brought into awareness and captured by a variety of cognitive assessment techniques.

People who define themselves as adequate in comparison to others, believe that others also believe they are adequate and are most likely to attribute causal attributions as internal, unstable and controllable. Therefore, they are more likely to be flexible in seeking alternate solutions to difficult problems and motivated to do their best.

People who define themselves as inadequate and believe that others support this view are likely to attribute failure internally, but success externally. They are also likely to explain causes as being stable and uncontrollable, thus displaying helplessness in the face of adversity. Such an anxious orientation leads to catastrophic thinking and panic without much motivation to use energy and effort.

In highlighting aspects of cognitive processing that are important for the competent handling of social situations, one might list factors that may interfere with social competence (negative internal dialogue, negative expectancies, etc.) and/or factors (thought content and style) that may facilitate positive social interaction. In each instance, the cognitive factors are interactive with the perceptions and responses of the social group.

Cognitions That Interfere With Social Competence

Internal Dialogue

Recent evidence on thinking processes indicates that such negative, self-referent ideation contributes to inadequate performance in a variety of situations. Consider, for example, the following inter- and intrapersonal tasks where the individual is required to be competent:

(1) taking an examination;
(2) responding to social challenges;
(3) performing in athletic competition; and
(4) creative responses on tests of divergent thinking.

In each of these situations, when a common pattern of self-referent negative ideation preceded, accompanied, and followed behavioral acts, it contributed to inadequate performance.

Researchers have identified groups of low-assertive and high-assertive individuals and conducted multiple assessments in order to discern the role cognitive factors might play in the behavioral deficit. They found that low-assertive individuals did not differ from their more assertive counterparts with regard to knowledge of what was an appropriate response on an assertiveness questionnaire, nor did the two groups differ in the behavioral expression of assertion in a safe role-playing situation (i.e., showing a friend how to handle specific assertive situations). If both groups knew what to do and, moreover, could do it in certain circumstances, then what was the nature of the low-assertive individuals’ deficit? The answer was provided by a third condition, in which researchers asked their subjects to role-play assertive behavior in a situation approximating real life (the subject was to be personally confronted with an unreasonable request). In this condition, the low-assertive group manifested deficient assertive behavior.

When asked how frequently ‘positive’ as opposed to ‘negative’ self-statements had characterized their thought processes during the preceding assertiveness situations. [positive self-statements were defined as thoughts that would make it easier to refuse an unreasonable request; negative self-statements were those that would make it harder to refuse], they found that moderate- and high-assertive subjects had experienced significantly more positive than negative self-statements; whereas low-assertive subjects did not differ in the number of positive and negative self-statements. It appeared that while high-assertive individuals had a positive orientation and usually little doubt in their minds as to the appropriateness of their actions, low-assertive subjects, in contrast, could be characterized as experiencing an internal dialogue of conflict in which positive and negative self-statements competed against one another and interfered with interpersonal behavior. That negative cognitions plays such a directive role in social anxiety was underscored by others, who found that cognitive modeling in the form of alteration of self statements was most effective in reducing underassertive behavior.

A Functional Cognitive Behavior Assessment procedure is only one of a variety of means to tap an individual’s internal dialogue. We need to describe the content, frequency, and most important, patterning of self-statements, thoughts, and images that accompany behavior and contribute to individual differences in performance in a variety of situations. We must search the cognitive domain for evidence of explanatory constructs in much the same way that we describe sequences of overt behaviors, look for evidence of fixed-action patterns, releasing stimuli, and so forth. Such a task requires the development of techniques (interviews, questionnaires, think-aloud protocols, videotape reconstruction, thought sampling, etc.) to assess more adequately the individual’s cognitive processes. Social competence must be broadened to consider the important impact of the individual’s internal dialogue on his or her social behavior.

Expectancies And Appraisals

One aspect of cognitive processes to highlight is the interaction between the expectancies that an individual brings to a social situation and his or her appraisal of social outcomes, as well as the impact of both on social behavior. ‘Expectancies’ represent the individual’s personal prediction (whether from previous experience or the affective meaning that the situation holds for him or her) about what will happen in a given social situation. Expectancies may be reflected in elements of the internal dialogue in which the individual engages in a given situation. Expectancies may also, in some individuals or in some circumstances, operate without the individual’s awareness of specific thought, as in the case of the person whose general sense is that social approaches typically turn out badly for him or her.

‘Social outcomes’ represent the wide range of events to which an individual may have some cognitive or behavioral reaction. These may include tangible results (e.g., another person’s verbal or nonverbal response), as well as internal events (such as physiological reactions, mood states, etc.). It is not the social outcome per se that is important, but the individual’s appraisal of this outcome. For example, physiological arousal may be interpreted as debilitating social anxiety, or as nervous excitement in anticipation of positive social experiences.

Expectancies and appraisals of social outcomes interact in complex ways with one another and with social behavior. Expectancies may operate to constrain the social cues that one processes, as well as the evaluation one places on them. This, in turn, has an important impact upon the social behavior emitted in the situation.

Appraisals of behavioral outcomes can, in turn, so constrain attention and behavior as to set up or confirm expectancies in current or future social situations. A study using a decision-expectancy model, found that expectancies about consequences following a proposed behavioral act more adequately explained unassertiveness and social incompetence than did the subject’s behavioral repertoire. The focus of competence training should be on changing the participant’s expectations about the results of his or her behavior, rather than focusing on either values or on specific behaviors. These results are consistent with the data and arguments about the important role of expectancies in influencing interpersonal competence.

Social Context

An important corollary of this view of social competence is the notion that individuals actively create their environments by their choice of social situations and partners, by their processing of social information in these situations, and by their interpersonal behavior. This is very much a transactional view of the person-environment exchange. Any definition of social competence must include not only the individual’s cognitive or behavioral response to a social situation, but his or her active engendering of a changing social environment. It may be that one key ingredient of social competence is the individual’s ability to create and maintain positive and supportive social environments. Socially incompetent behavior, on the other hand, may result from distorted or constrained processing of social information, even when the individual has a wide variety of social and behavioral skills in his or her repertoire.

Of equal concern, of course, is the reinforcement of internal cognitive processes and structures, which occur from the responses of others to the overt behaviors of the individual. In order to gain some understanding of the nature of that reinforcement, clinicians are encouraged to use sociometric techniques to obtain a platform of understanding.


During the late 1920’s and on into the 1930’s two sociologists, Bogardus and Moreno, because of their interests in inter-group conflict and interpersonal attraction, developed quantifiable measuring techniques that were later to be called ‘sociometrics’. Other researchers such as Sheriff had similar interests in the psychology of social norms. Kurt Lewin’s interests in ‘group climates’ led him to develop certain experimental methods.

During the 1980’s several books and research articles have been produced that have demonstrated much refinement in the techniques of sociometric measurement, and have also given us further insights into both individuals and group processes. Steve Asher and John Gottman’s book, The Development of Children’s Friendships, and the entire Summer issue of the Merrill-Palmer Quarterly offer a great wealth of information concerning theoretical and empirical information about sociometry. One important contribution in this area is Children’s Peer Relations: Issues in Assessment and Intervention (Schneider, Rubin & Ledingham).

Past research indicates that healthy classroom climates also appear to be related and likely to enhance overall classroom academic achievement (Schmuck & Schmuck), and recognizing the impact of academic achievement on the appraisal of self and others makes it an area of cognitive behavior management interest. Curriculum have been developed that can improve classroom climates: for example Vacha, McDonald, Coburn and Black’s book, Improving Classroom Social Climate. Coie and Dodge have presented evidence that children’s social status, developmentally across time, remains quite stable, especially children who are not accepted by their peers. Social rejection has been shown to be a strong predictor of classroom absences, later school drop-outs, and a variety of other socio-emotional problems.

Two ‘meta-analyses’ (Newcomb, Bukowski & Pattee; Newcomb & Bagwell) bring together a rather large body of research that summarize past findings. These children have been described as being ‘socially at risk’. Many of these findings have led researchers toward developing a variety of intervention techniques, directed at both groups as well as individuals. The examination of basic social skills or competencies, which appear to be strongly related to peer social attraction, have led to some very promising intervention approaches.

Early identification of children likely to be experiencing social rejection and peer neglect is desirable for social growth and development. As in the case of early identification of developmentally handicapped children – children who are not accepted by their peers may be thought of as being ‘at risk’, as well. Norman Gronlund has written an excellent paper rationalizing the importance of sociometric measurement in the school environment. Also, Judith R. Harris’ book, The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, also emphasizes the importance of peer culture.

Teachers and other child managers know that the groups of children they work with are more than an aggregation of individuals. They know that the groups have form and structure: that there are patterns of sub-groups, cliques, and specific friendships. Some children are liked by their group more than others. Some are also less liked and often even rejected by their group. These patterns of friendship and rejection play an important role in determining how the group will react to developmental situations, and to various types of group management techniques that child managers might wish to use. The social group also sets the tone from which the target child creates/reinforces his/her cognitive structures concerning self and others.

Although child managers are aware of the obvious and dramatic aspects of group structure, the more subtle inter-personal relationships may be difficult to detect. A variety of sociometric techniques are designed to bring these relationships into view. Sociograms derived from ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ nomination techniques and social distance ratings are two means by which professionals may gain some insight into these relationships. The use of these techniques are but a means to further study in most cases. Understanding group structure is but a step toward studying group dynamics, and understanding group dynamics is a means to better group management and intervention development. Clinicians and teachers should not undertake the use of these sociometric techniques unless they are prepared to check their findings by careful observation, and then utilize their increased knowledge as a means to provide better living and learning situations for children. If child managers set as a goal ‘improved peer group climate’, then sociometric techniques are a means by which they can measure whether or not they have attained this goal. By the same token, if the defined goal is to enhance the positive social reinforcement for the target, improving the climate for the individual, the same measurements are valid.

The objectives of this paper are to show how clinicians might sociometrically measure and diagnose the relations, friendships, and social status of individual children in their classrooms, peer groups and family clusters, as one more component in understanding the nature/nurture of the child. Combining the sociometric approach with the Child Manager Expectation and Child Achievement observations may help to define the assets and deficits the social group and the child managers might pose for the child.

Sociogram Cooperative Clinical Assignment

PURPOSE: The purposes are twofold:

1. To use the social-psychological techniques of ‘sociometry’ – the quantitative and qualitative assessment and interpretation of group climate through relationship patterns to indicate assets and deficits of the child’s ecology.

2. To develop intervention processes based on this understanding that will address issues of social competence cognitively, behaviorally and ecologically.


1. The clinical team must first decide which questions will be asked and diagramed – e.g. Questions of like/dislike; admire/disdain; care about/don’t care about; etc. and whether such questions are to be placed into a particular context [in your study group, on a trip, in recess, etc.] The selection of these questions is not a trivial task as many children would select the ‘bully’ of the class to be on their side in a fight, while rejecting him/her at all other times.

2. Design and implement the questionnaire.

3. Analyze and report [diagram] data – determining the social classifications; where the target child is within such diagrams and classifications; and how these positions compare with other data about the child.

4. Create hypothesis about these relationships and their impact upon the target child.

5. Create interventions that may ameliorate negative impact or enhance positive impact.

6. Develop a plan to implement interventions.

7. Re-interview and evaluate the impact of the interventions.

Resulting Product. These activities should result in a clinical report that includes:

1. A cover page with the name of the target child, the number of children in the target group [each child with a identification code name or number, except for the target child], as well as the identification of the type of group [family, peer, social, classroom, etc.] that has been analyzed.

2. An introductory statement in which a general description of the group is made, followed by the tools used for interview.

3. The graphic tables of the group [all names coded except for the target child] and an explanation of the graphs in regard to the target child.

• the Matrix
• the Bar Graph
• the Target Graph
• the Sociogram
• the individual identifications of the sociogram status types described, as well as comments regarding gender differences and patterns, and the relationship between social distance/social attraction scores.

4. An integrated synthesis of the outcomes that identifies the specific assets or deficits manifest in the group for the target child. This would include specific ratings that were made about the group and the target individual such as social distance ratings [Personal and Group], cohesion coefficient, Z-scores [Social Performance and Social Impact], and Sociometric Ranking.

5. Specific recommendations as to how to intervene to modify the negative and enhance the positives of the ecology within the group for the target child.

6. A recommended plan of implementation of interventions. Note: this plan may be carried out by natural supports, educators or clinicians as required.

7. A scheduled plan to restudy the group to evaluate the impact of the implementation.

What is A Sociogram?

A sociogram is a charting of the inter-relationships within a group. Its purpose is to discover group structure: i.e., the basic ‘network’ of relationship patterns and sub-group organization. The relations of any one child to the group as a whole is the specific type of information that is expected to be derived from a clinical sociogram. A sociogram’s value to a clinician is in its potential for developing greater understanding of group attitudes and behavior so that s/he may operate more wisely in creating interventions to enhance group management and development.

Sociograms may be constructed in a variety of ways. The methods described here are ones that clinicians have used and found not too difficult or time consuming.

The Database

The basic material from which a sociogram is constructed is collected from group members who answer questions such as these:

  • Who are your three best friends in this group?
  • What three people in this group do you most admire?
  • With what three people in this group would you most enjoy going to a picnic?

These questions are examples of the ‘positive nomination’ techniques: positive in the sense that you ‘like’ or would ‘like to do…’ something with these children. When children’s choices are restricted to only so many nominations – in our examples above we restricted the choices to three – the technique is described as a ‘fixed positive nomination’ technique.

Some researchers recommend the use of negative questions in order to discover interpersonal resistance. An example would be “Which three people do you like the least?” This would be described as a ‘fixed negative nomination’ technique. If the children were also asked to rank the individuals from ‘most’ to ‘least’ disliked, we would call it a ‘fixed rank, negative nomination’ technique. The study of resistance or rejection is sometimes accompanied by unfavorable emotional reaction by children. Nevertheless, negative nomination information can be quite informative to the clinician. Similar information may be obtained using social distance ratings that will be discussed later.

Depending on the nature of the questions selected, a data base must be developed from which analysis can be made. As each child’s selections are added to the chart, a data base of responses is created from which the clinical team can begin to build graphic representations.

To use the above example, this would demand the creation of a simple chart with the following heading

Nominator’s Code # Nominator’s Name 1st Choice 2nd Choice 3rd Choice

For any external purposes, including the report, the nominator’s Code is used rather than the name, except where the target child is being identified.

How to Chart a Sociogram.

Step 1

Using the Sociometric Nominations Survey, responses of individual children within a group to questions such as those described above may be sorted onto a two-dimensional Matrix Template, You can then rapidly total up the frequency of nominations (positive and negative separately) that each child received from their classroom peers. After compiling these responses, they may be sorted into alphabetical order. Then, one can note who was nominated by each individual child. Entries into the matrix consist of ‘+’ signs for each ‘positive’ nomination and ‘-’ signs for each ‘negative’ nomination. If each child nominated three other children, then the sum of each ROW should never be more than three +’s or -‘s. However, the sum of +’s or -‘s in each column represent the number of nominations each child received and this sum should never be more than the size of the group minus 1 (children usually are instructed NOT to chose themselves and they should not nominate the same person more than once.

Step 3

Using the total + and – frequencies obtained from Step 2 one can construct a Bar Graph. If one gives each child a code number ranging from 1 to the size of the group (N), they can utilize the center section of the bar graph to represent each child in the classroom. Note that if one requests both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ nomination data, they can plot simultaneously both the frequency of negative nominations extending downward, and the positive nomination frequencies extending upward.

A Bar Graph such as this can be informative. Specific patterns of rejection and attraction may be noted.

A. [Popular Children] Children who receive many positive nominations and very few, if any, negative nominations (a high positive nomination bar and a very low negative nomination bar) are usually described as ‘popular’ children or ‘stars’. This would approximate the ‘A’ portion of the Target Graph.

B. [Rejected Children] Children who receive many negative nominations and very few if any positive nominations are usually described as ‘unpopular’ or ‘rejected’ children. This would approximate the ‘D’ portion of the Target Graph.

Step 4

Using the data compiled in Step 3’s Bar Graph, as well as the total +’s and -‘s found at the bottom of Step 2’s Matrix, one can go on to graphically display these results using the ‘Target Technique’. The advantage of using this relatively simply and quick display is that one can group children into categories similar to those described above in Step 3. Each portion (ring) of the Target Graph is lettered ‘A’ through ‘E’ and these letters correspond to the following definitions:

A. Popular Children – This is the ‘bull’s eye’ portion of the graph and is reserved for the most ‘popular’ children. Popular is defined as children who have a frequency of ‘positive’ nominations great than the average number of nominations if children evenly distributed their choices over the entire class, and have near zero (0) ‘negative’ nominations.

B. Liked More Than Disliked – Children who have more ‘positive’ nominations than they have ‘negative’ nominations go in Sector B.

C. Disliked More Than Liked – Children who have more ‘negative’ nominations than they have ‘positive’ nominations go in Sector C.

D. Controversial Children – A special kind of category called ‘controversial’ is reserved for children who have nearly an equal number of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ nominations and both exceed the average nominations if children evenly distributed their choices over the entire class.

E. Rejected Children – Sector E is reserved for children who received only one or no positive nominations and their negative nominations exceed the average number of nominations if children evenly distributed their choices over the entire class.

F. Neglected Children – Children who do not receive any ‘positive’ nor any ‘negative’ nominations should be placed in the F sector. These children are not even being acknowledged by their classmates. Nevertheless, this is useful information, but as one can see, using the ‘positive – negative nomination technique tells us very little about Neglected children. As we shall see later, the classroom social distance rating technique could give us some further insight into these individuals.

Step 5

Square = boy
Circle = girl
Bold Line ============> = First Choice
Skinny Line ——————–> = Second Choice
Dotted line—————–> = Third Choice
<=============> = Mutual Choice

Using the above symbols , the next step is to transfer the obtained patterns to a ‘drawing’. If you want to do a neat job and are not too sure of your drawing ability, an easy trick is to use small round and square gummed labels. Place a circle, or a square, for each name or coded number, write the name or code number in the figure, and draw a line connecting the circles or squares with an arrow pointing to the name or number chosen.

Continue until the total pattern has been transferred to paper. This forms the basic pattern for the sociogram. Second and third choices are elaborations superimposed on this pattern, with some re-arranging.


Now you must make a decision as to whether you want to give equal significance to all nominations (first, second and third nominations). Your decision will depend on what you want to know and how you plan to use the sociogram. Thus, there are two strategies: (A) no distinction is made between the three nomination ranks, and (B) you want to symbolically distinguish between the three nomination levels. Giving equal significance makes a sociogram easier to read. Distinguishing among nominations provides greater precision. For example, you may want to know whether a person chosen by three others was chosen first by three others or third in each case.

A. Equal Significance Given To All 3 Nominations.

B. Distinction Is Made Between Nomination Levels.

This is where creativity in using line symbols comes in. The key above indicates the difference in choices by using different style lines, but it does not separate out negative or positive choices. The mutual choice line also does not indicate whether the choices were on an equal level. By selecting, and documenting the selections on a key, different types of lines to stand for different attitudes, you can indicate the information needed. Sometimes different colors are used to distinguish between first, second and third place nominations. One problem with colors is that they will not reproduce as easily on a copying machine. For this reason alone it is recommended that colors not be used.

Whether or not one uses technique ‘A’ or ‘B’, plotting a sociogram is usually easier if all second choices for all slips are done first, and then do the third nominations last.

One additional word on the issue of second and third choices. When children are instructed to rank their nominations (e.g., “Make your first choice the person whom you like the best, and your second choice the person you ‘next’ like best, etc.”), a weighting scheme may be applied to their nominations. This technique is sometimes referred to as ‘Fixed Rank’ nomination technique: remember ‘fixed’ in that the children are limited to 3 choices, and ‘ranked’ in order of priority. Sometimes 3 points are assigned to ‘first-choice’ nominations, 2 points for a ‘second-choice’, and 1 point to a ‘third-choice’. For each individual child the frequency of nominations within each rank is multiplied by the assigned weight and these are summed to yield an index of popularity. If a child receives no nominations their score would be zero (0). Many first choices would tend to yield a high index. If the children’s nominations are entered as ‘weights’ replacing the ‘+’ and ‘-’ signs with their respective weights into the matrix described in Step 2, simply summing the weighted values in each column would yield each child’s weighted index of popularity within the group.

Sociogram Interpretation And Terminology

Giving examples of sociogram terminology is one of the easiest ways of relating how to interpret a sociogram. One might note that the basic terminology that follows can be broken down into two categories, Stars, Isolates and Ghosts are terms that describe individual children or INDIVIDUAL PHENOMENA, while mutual choices, chains, islands and triangles are attributes of social interaction within a group or GROUP PHENOMENA.


A. Stars. When several children ‘positively’ nominate the same person the many arrows all lead to that person thus emphasizing their ‘starness’. They are the center or ‘hub of attraction’. In the case of a ‘negative nomination’, we might want to note the individual with several arrows as a ‘Negative Star’.

B. Isolates. Children who have not been ‘positively’ nominated by anyone in the group are usually defined as ‘isolates’. Note that they have already been somewhat defined in the discussion of the Target Technique in Step 4 (Neglected Children). Placing them on the fringes or outer edges of the sociogram visually emphasizes their ‘isolation’ within the context of the group. One could discern their status from the Bar Graph of Step 3 or the Target Technique of Step 4 with no need to see a sociogram. However, we would not know who their positive nor their negative nominations are unless we made a sociogram. This is useful information if any intervention is going to be attempted. This term, ISOLATE, is usually not used to describe children who receive no ‘negative’ nominations. Children who receive no positive or negative nominations are called ‘Ghosts’. Of course, if you do not solicit negative nomination information you will not know the difference between a ‘Ghost’ and an ‘Isolate’.

C. Ghosts. As described above in ‘B’ a Ghost is a person who is not even acknowledged as being in the classroom. No one positively OR negatively nominates them. However, they do make nominations. In effect, they might as well not even be in the classroom.


D. Mutual Choices. These consist of pairs of children who chose each other. If one is not interested in distinguishing between 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices, there may be many mutual choices in a sociogram. The more there are, the more congenial the group is and, thus, there may be a greater positive social climate to the classroom. Obviously, mutual negative choices are dangerous situations to be corrected by intervention, or at least used as useful knowledge when grouping children with each other.

E. Chains. A chain is when one person nominates another who in turn nominates another child, etc. This term is usually reserved for describing the 1st level nominations only. Chains have a tendency to lead toward a ‘Star”.

F. Islands. When pairs (mutual choices) or small groups are separated from the larger patterns, and members of this group are not nominated by anyone in other patterns, we describe them as ‘Islands’. Once again, this term is usually reserved for describing 1st level nominations.

G. Triangles and Circles. When a chain comes back on itself by having the last person nominate the first, we call it a TRIANGLE if it involves only three people. If there are more than three people we call it a CIRCLE.

Coefficient Of Group Cohesion

Vacha et al., have described group cohesion as:

“…the attraction structure of the classroom and involves not only individual friendships but also the attractiveness of the whole group for individual students. In cohesive classrooms, students value their classmates, are involved with and care about one another, try to help one another, and are proud of their membership in the group. Student cohesiveness can either support or undermine educational goals depending on the impact of other group processes in the classroom. For example, if students share counter educational norms that limit student participation or undermine academic achievement, their cohesiveness can work against the academic goals of the schools by making those norms extremely difficult to change. If a classroom group develops norms that support academic achievement, high cohesiveness can enhance education by providing a strong ‘we feeling’ which promotes conformity to student norms.”

Vacha suggests three patterns of group social relations that they believe are typical threats to classroom cohesion. They include:

1. Divisive Competition Among Individual Students

Some groups [families, peer groups, and classrooms] are so divided by extreme competition among children that they are not groups at all. Rather, they are merely collections of individuals, each of whom competes against every other member for the attention, praise, and approval of the child manager. Most interaction in the classroom is essentially dyadic – between only two people at a time. Student performance is often seriously undermined by individual competition. Children rarely help one another and as a result are often alienated from each other. Their self esteem and confidence may suffer resulting in their not working up to their actual potential.

2. Development Of ‘In-Groups’

When a classroom has one highly cohesive ‘in-group’ that may consist of a majority, the minority is often excluded or ignored. The very high cohesiveness of the ‘in-group’ often hinders efforts to encourage inclusion of ‘out-group’ members. This often results in reciprocal feelings of hostility vis-a-vie the in-/out-groups. Much energy is wasted by both groups in defending/attacking the opposition, energy that could be collaboratively directed towards academic classroom goals. The establishment of what Sherif (1966) has called ‘superordinate goal structures’ for the classroom can do much in reducing the tensions between in- and out-groups.

3. Social Cleavages In The Classroom

Another type of in-out-group structure that often occurs in not necessarily a majority/minority problem. Both groups have equal status but reciprocally are hostile and reject each other. An example would be the same-sex preferences for friendship that often occur in upper elementary school classrooms: e.g., the 4th, 5th and 6th grades. Many ‘ungraded’ classroom curriculums utilize heterogeneously (mixed) age groups. Sherman (1984) has presented evidence that social cleavages can exist between children of differing ages. Besides sex and age, ethnicity, athletic interests, rival gangs, fraternity/sorority competition and many other attributes may cause social cleavages to occur in the classroom.

Upon sociometrically surveying a classroom through the use of the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ nomination techniques, one should analyze the evidence for any serious social cleavages, in-/out-group rivalries and divisive individual competition that might threaten classroom cohesion. If these cliques are not present, then the ‘coefficient of cohesion’ (‘C’) may be computed. This computation is an indicator of how strong the mutual ties are among the classroom members, and is based on the obtained number of mutual choices. Vacha et al., (1979) suggest that “There is no objective criterion that can be used to determine whether or not a given coefficient of cohesion indicates the existence of a problem in any particular classroom.” However, their experience in administering sociometric measures in many classrooms at the 4th through 6th grade levels provides a convenient rule of thumb. The coefficient of cohesion of 19 classes ranged from a high of 15.58 to a low of 3.83. Their median coefficient was 6.12, and the mean coefficient was 7.1. Based on their experience you may wish to consider a class as having a cohesion problem if it’s coefficient of cohesion is below six or seven.

The coefficient of cohesion can be calculated directly from sociometric data used to diagnose ‘positive nomination’ data. All of the data necessary are contained in the sociogram. To calculate the coefficient of cohesion, simply count the number of mutual positive choices made by all of the students, the total number of positive choices made by all of the students, and the number of students who completed the survey. The coefficient of cohesion can then be calculated using these totals according to the following formula:

C = Mq/Up = (15.87)/(57.13) = 13.05/7.41 = 1.76


= the coefficient of cohesion.

= the total number of mutual positive choices made by the students (15 in our example).

= the number of unreciprocated positive choices (the total number of positive choices minus the number of mutual choices (M). In our example 24 students each giving three nominations (24 x 3) U = 72 – 15 = 57.

P = d/(N-1) where d is the number of positive choices allowed (in our example 3) and N is the number of students completing the survey. Thus, for a class of 24 completing a three-choice positive nomination sociometric survey, such as in our example: p = 3/(24-1) = .13

Q = 1 – p = 1-.13 = .87

Variations On The Nomination Techniques

The Recognition Scale:

Besides positive and negative nominations for relationships, some researchers ask for nominations for a variety of different behavioral characteristics or attributes. One such instrument, The Recognition Scale, has been used by Sherman and Burgess (1985). This scale is similar to a ‘Guess Who’ nomination technique in which children nominate other children who fit descriptions of behaviors. It was constructed by combining descriptions from The Ohio Recognition Scale (Fordyce, Yauch and Raths, 1946) and from similar research instruments by Johnson (1950), Johnson and Kirk (1950), and Baldwin (1958). This scale includes a list of children in a group (similar to the Social Distance Scale described next) that has a list of 20 behavioral attributes that describe behaviors. The child manager or the assessor reads a paragraph describing a particular behavioral attribute that corresponds to the name on the children’s response form. Children are instructed to check up to three different students who might fit the particular description that has been read to them. They are told that they do not have to choose anyone for a given trait if they feel that it does not fit anyone in their group. children’s profiles are obtained by adding the total number of nominations they each receive on each attribute.

Many of the traits in the Recognition Scale describe basic social competencies that have been shown to be strongly related to children’s acceptance/rejection and general social status within the classroom. In a recent article by Sherman and Burgess (1985) a strong relationship was shown between several clusters of these traits and children’s Classroom Social Distance Scores (see Table 1). Coie, Dodge and Coppotelli (1982) also presented evidence demonstrating similarly strong relationships between several basic social skill traits and both positive and negative nomination data. This technique can be quite helpful in identifying the reasons why particular children maintain their classroom social status. Intervention using a variety of cognitive and social skills training procedures can be helpful in changing the classroom climate. Work with individual children may sometimes be required. Work with the entire group is also sometimes advisable (see Vacha, et. al., 1979, for an entire two year curriculum focusing on enhancing 4th to 6th grade children’s classroom climate).

Non-Verbal Techniques.

Sometimes in the lower elementary grades (pre-school and kindergarten through the second grade) you will find that the children cannot read a list of names. One solution is to take photographic portraits of the children, either using the annual year book pictures or sometimes taking fast developing polaroid photographs. Then, the children are verbally asked the traditional positive and negative nomination questions with the added instruction that they select the three photographs of children they like the most or least. This technique requires an individual administration to each child, along with a little more direct recording of the children’s responses by the assessor.

From here on, though, all the rest of the procedures are the same. Shelly Hymel’s (1983) article dealing with sociometric measurement in the preschool environment is a good reference for those interested in this area. Hymel (1983) also discusses another technique called the ‘paired-comparison’ measure. “Here a child is presented, in turn, with all possible pairs of peers within the group under consideration, and for each pair is asked to state a preference for one or the other peers according to some specified interpersonal criteria (e.g., ‘”Which one would you most like to play with?’),” (p. 24) One main disadvantage to this technique is the amount of time required for administration, especially with preschoolers!

Another Way Of Determining Social Status

Coi and Dodge (1983) have developed another way of determining children’s social status within classrooms that is based on quantifiable measures obtained from positive and negative nomination data. Their formulas are useful when the most general nomination format states “What three children in this classroom do you ‘like the most'” or “What three children in this room do you ‘like the least'”. Nominations may be treated as ‘fixed nominations’ (for instance fixed at a maximum of three nominations) or ‘fixed-rank’ measures (for instance giving a weight of 3 to first nominations, 2 to second nominations, 1 to third nominations and 0 for no nominations). Certain basic statistics such as the mean and standard deviation can be calculated for each general question: i.e., the mean and standard deviation for ‘liked the most’ as well as ‘liked the least’. In order to use Coi and Dodge’s (1983) formulas for determining social status you must first convert the children’s raw frequency or weighted frequency scores to standardized z-scores. This is fairly simple to do after one has computed the means and standard deviations for each of the two general questions ‘liked the most’ (LM) and ‘liked the least’ (LL). The mean for each question is subtracted from each child’s score on that question and this difference is divided by the standard deviation for that question:

Child’s score – mean
——————————— = z-score
standard deviation

zLM = the z-score for the ‘liked most’ question.

zLL = the z-score for the ‘liked least’ question

Social Preference (SP).

After computing each child’s zLM and zLL scores one can then go on to compute each child’s Social Preference score which is as follows:

SP = zLM – zLL

The main idea behind this construct, Social Preference, is that the zLM score will obviously be a positive figure if zLM is greater than zLL, while if the zLM is less than zLL, the result will be a negative number. Negative numbers exist at one end of the continuum indicating very little preference, while positive scores indicate a strong preference. Scores in the middle, that is close to zero (0), indicate average social preference.

Social Impact (SI).

Social Impact is the idea that whether or not children are liked by the group as a whole, or disliked by the group, the group is, nevertheless responsive to them. Therefore, both the zLM as well as the zLL scores are an important consideration. Thus the formula for Social Impact is as follows:

SI = zLM + zLL

Given these four computations [1) zLM, 2) zLL, 3) SP and 4) SI] one can then apply Boolian Logic to determine the five specific categories of social status:

a) Popular = SP gt +1.00 AND zLM gt 0.0 and zll lt 0.0
b) Rejected = SP lt -1.0 AND zLM lt 0.0 and zLL gt 0.0
c) Neglected = SI lt -1.0 and zLM and zLL = 0.0
d) Controversial = SI > +1.0 and zLM and zLL gt 0.0
e) Average Status = any child whose scores cannot be fit into social categories a through d above.

One distinct advantage of standardizing children’s scores – i.e., transforming their raw positive or negative nomination scores into ‘z-scores’ – is that these z-scores make possible normative comparisons of individual in different environments. Obviously one factor effecting the children’s raw scores is the size of the group with which the child is being measured: e.g., the difference in frequency of nominations in a large group may be substantially different than the frequency of nominations they receive in a different and ‘smaller’ group. Sometimes clinicians and teachers will wish to know the stability or similarity of a child’s social status in different groups, or even over time (e.g., do kids change or maintain their social status as they grow older?). The standardized z-scores provide an appropriate way of answering questions such as these because these standardized scores reflect normative standing in a group regardless of the constituency or size of the group.

Social Distance: A Sociometric Rating System

Asher and Hymel (1981), Kane and Lawler (1978), as well as Miller and Gentry (1980) have discussed several different techniques for measuring peer attraction. An adaptation of a sociometric rating scale developed by the Horace Mann-Lincoln Institute of School Experimentation (Bureau of Publications, 1947) entitled the Classroom Social Distance Scale, is one such measure. The scale is modeled after Bogardus (1928) sociologically oriented strategy and allows each child within any particular classroom to give, as well as receive from every child in the classroom, a rating on a 1 to 5 continuum. The rating continuum is as follows:

(1) Would like to have her/him as one of my best friends;
(2) Would like to have her/him in my group but not as a close friend;
(3) Would like to be with her/him once in awhile but not often or for long at a time;
(4) Don’t mind her/him being in our room but I don’t want to have anything to do with her/him;
(5) Wish s/he weren’t in our room.”

Students are given a survey-matrix in which the columns consisted of an alpha/vertical list of the children in their room, and the rows are labeled in the left margin with the 5-point rating continuum. Children are asked to indicate the statement which most nearly defines their feelings about each person(X). To identify who is doing the rating, each child is asked to circle their name. They are asked to ‘…put an asterisk, ‘*’ in the row that describes how you think most people would rate you’. This is sometimes called the Personal Social Distance Rating. Great discrepancies between the Personal Social Distance Rating and the mean Classroom Social Distance ratings may indicate that a child is ‘out-of-touch’ with their ‘social reality’. Each child’s mean social distance score can be computed by multiplying the appropriate weight times the frequency with which a child was checked off in each of the categories, and dividing by the number of raters (the size of the classroom minus one – the child who is being rated). Theoretically, the mean social distance scores, a continuous measure, can range from 1 to 5 and relatively low scores (1) would indicate less social distance, while relatively high scores (5) would indicate greater social distance. This social distance measure can then be analyzed contingent upon various attributes of both the ‘raters’ and ‘ratees’, such as their gender and age. Sherman (1984a, 1984b, 1984c, 1985), for example, has shown the importance of considering gender and age as potential moderating variables influencing the ratings which children both give and receive.

The Classroom Social Distance Scale has many advantages over the positive or negative nomination technique discussed earlier. It’s primary advantage is that every child within any given classroom contributes to the score each individual receives. When either the positive or negative nomination technique is used we see the ‘network’ of friendships, but if no one nominates a child that is all we know about how others feel about him/her. A rating system is, then, much more precise AND INVOLVES THE ENTIRE CLASSROOM.

Sociometric Ranking

Another form of sociometric measure, somewhat similar to the sociometric ‘rating’ strategy is called the ‘Sociometric Ranking’. Here, once again, the children are given a list of names of their classroom peers. They are asked to ‘rank’ the names from lowest to highest on the basis of some interpersonal criteria (e.g., Rank the children from highest to lowest on the basis of who you would most prefer to play with, where a low ranking could indicate the least preferred and a high ranking the most preferred.) The rankings that children receive from their peers are summed and divided by the number of children who did the rankings (the classroom size minus 1) to yield an ‘average rank score’.

Observational Schemes

A sensitive assessor can also obtain a sense of a child’s popularity and social status simply by observing who interacts with whom. This is done in free-play situations where the children have the freedom to interact with their peers: e.g., at lunch time noting who sits with whom; during recess noting who plays with whom. Sometimes the validity of social interaction is evaluated noting whether the interactions are positive approaches or negative ones. Cavallaro and Porter’s (1980) research on preschool ‘at-risk’ and normal children’s peer preferences is an excellent example of naturalistic observational sociometric analysis (See Appendix G, Research Example No. 7). Observational analyses are sometimes used to confirm children’s ‘paper-and-pencil’ sociometric nominations and ratings.


Evidence of high levels of aggressive behavior and social skills deficits suggest that rejected children might profit from social skills training. Many rejected children could benefit from interventions that focus on building appropriate social behaviors, such as group-entry behavior or conversation skills. Toner and Munro propose that interventions first focus on reattribution training for rejected children. These children display a maladaptive explanatory style for social success and failure, increasing their vulnerability to a learned helplessness that can undermine other remedial efforts. Cognitive retraining should target the child’s perceived low self-efficacy and tendency to ascribe acceptance to external factors. Once this has been accomplished, social skills interventions could emphasize the impact of making appropriate responses in social interactions.

Morris et al., utilized a peer-pairing approach with neglected children. This technique might prove equally useful with rejected populations. The isolated child is paired with a more popular child for a joint-task activity that requires social interaction, such as a board game or puzzle. The implementation of this procedure resulted in dramatic improvements in peer status and social interactions for neglected children. Results indicated that more than four times as many treatment group children demonstrated increases in social status as compared to controls. Further, five times more treatment than control children demonstrated increases in prosocial interactions. For example, these children reported more invitations to play with more popular peers. This is likely due to the fact that the more popular child enjoyed the social interaction, increasing the likelihood of future positive social interactions. Similar results seem possible with rejected children. Pairing with peers may facilitate the modeling of appropriate social behavior, and provide opportunities for social reinforcement. Success in social interactions with more popular peers could therefore promote changes in the rejected child’s sense of self-efficacy.

A large portion of rejected children display elevated levels of aversive or aggressive behavior. Waas proposes the use of intervention procedures that directly target inappropriate aggression, such as contingency management or self-monitoring. French cautions that these intervention programs may prove only moderately effective in alleviating peer relationship difficulties for the more aggressive rejected children. For instance, non-aggressive rejected boys experience more internalizing behaviors that may be modified though skills training programs. In contrast, antisocial and aggressive behavior is often difficult to treat, and may therefore be less amenable to remediation.

Research indicates that teachers could play a vital role in improving the status of peer-rejected children. Rejected children tend to be the targets of more negative and corrective teacher feedback than their classmates. White and Kistner examined the influence of teacher feedback on young children’s perceptions of peers. Kindergarten, first, and second grade children viewed a tape of a child exhibiting behaviors typical of peer-rejected children. A teacher’s voice then responded to the child’s behavior in one of several ways. Neutral statements were those non-contingent on the child’s behavior, such as assignment instructions. Positive feedback consisted of statements in relation to only appropriate behavior. Corrective statements included requests to stop an inappropriate behavior or requests for more appropriate behaviors. Derogatory statements were similar to corrective statements, but content or tone indicated teacher irritation, criticism, or negative evaluation of the child. In the last condition, the teacher employed a combination of positive and corrective feedback by responding to both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.

Results indicated that teacher feedback had a directional and additive effect on classmates’ social perceptions of the disruptive child. Corrective statements had little impact on peer perceptions, while derogatory feedback resulted in much lower preference and judgment scores and more negative behavioral descriptors for the target child. This may be due to the fact that young children tend to rely on adult input in impression formation and attributions of positive or negative qualities toward their peers. Interestingly, 43% of the children watching the target child recalled reprimands even when they did not occur, implying children’s automatic evaluations of misbehavior. Directing teacher attention to a child’s inappropriate behavior may simply facilitate the rejection of a child who is already susceptible to negative peer perceptions (White & Kistner). One method of remediation may be through training teachers to incorporate positive feedback for appropriate behaviors with corrective, rather than derogatory, statements for inappropriate behaviors.

Depending upon the characteristics of the individual child, the assessment specialist may want to review the Protocols for ADHD [#05] and/or Conduct Disorder [#07]


Childhood friendships provide opportunities for validation of self-worth, exploration of personal strengths, and development of social skills. Friendships additionally ‘promote self-esteem’ and “provide a setting for intimate disclosure, emotional support, and mutual understanding” (Bagwell et al.). Children who are rejected by peers have limited exposure to these supportive features. As a consequence, they develop and maintain maladaptive social perceptions and interaction styles that place them at greater risk for development of an array of disorders.

Because the formation of children’s peer relations occurs largely in the school, school psychologists are in an ideal position to identify peer-rejected children and develop appropriate interventions. It appears that peer sociometric ratings most accurately indicate which children are likely to be rejected. Teacher ratings, parent ratings, child self-report measures, and direct observations can then provide additional evidence of peer-rejected status. Once rejected children are identified, relevant skills training, peer-pairing, or aggression control interventions can be provided.