College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Fall 11-20-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Yan Li, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Linda Camras, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Midge Wilson, PhD


Researchers have conceptualized of two types of high peer statuses (i.e., perceived popularity, social preference), each associated with distinctive behavioral characteristics (Coie et al., 1982; Mayeux & Cillessen, 2004; Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998). Perceived popularity is positively associated with both relational aggression and prosocial behaviors (Cillessen & Mayeux, 2004; Rodkin et al., 2000; Rose et al., 2004; Rubin et al., 1998). On the other hand, social preference is negatively related to relational aggression but positively linked to prosocial behavior (Rose et al., 2004). The social information processing model may provide a better understanding of adolescents’ unique behavioral characteristics as their social cognitive processes may vary as a function of the type of behavior they are evaluating (Crick & Dodge, 1994). Even though decades of research suggest that adolescents’ behaviors are influenced by these processes, limited attention has applied this framework to adolescents’ peer status (Crick & Dodge, 1994; Dodge & Newman, 1981).

Addressing this gap in the literature, the present study proposed an integrative model by focusing on the moderating effects of social cognitive processes and gender in the relationships between popularity types and their behaviors. Utilizing a sample of 405 6th-8th graders, adolescents completed self-reported and peer-nominated peer status (i.e., perceived popularity, social preference) and social behaviors questionnaires as well as closed-ended and open-ended questions pertaining to their social cognitive processes for their peers’ aggressive (both relational and overt) and prosocial behavior. Responses to the open-ended questions were coded based on previous research, theory, and content. Next, multiple, logistic, and poisson regression analyses were utilized to examine adolescents’ answers to open-ended questions along with their closed-ended questions in relation to their social behaviors and peer status.

Consistent with the literature, perceived popularity was positively associated with both overt and relational aggression, whereas social preference was negative related to either of these behaviors. On the other hand, prosocial behavior was positively linked to social preference, but no relationship was found for perceived popularity. Adolescents’ social preference increased the odds of making the aggressor’s-jealousy attribution pertaining to the overt aggression vignette. In addition, boys’ perceived popularity decreased the odds of making the friendship-establishment attribution for their peers’ prosocial behavior. With regard to coping intentions, boys’ perceived popularity decreased the odds of dealing with relational aggression using social support seeking.

Results also indicated that attributions and outcome expectancies served as moderators in the relationship between peer status and adolescents’ social behaviors. The relationship between boys’ aggressive behaviors and social preference was more negatively associated at lower levels of the aggressor’s jealousy-about-status, romantic relationship competition, and victim-blame attributions. In contrast, the relationship between boys’ aggressive behaviors and perceived popularity was more positive at lower levels of the aggressor’s-jealousy, bad behavior of the victim, and victim-blame attributions. Similar patterns were found between perceived popularity and adolescents’ social behaviors (i.e., overt aggression, relational aggression, prosocial behavior) at lower levels of the status-attainment, status-maintenance, and harm-victim’s-status-and-friendships outcome expectancies. Furthermore, when adolescents did not endorse the harm-victim’s- status, and create-aggression outcome expectancies the relationship between social preference and aggressive behaviors was more negative.

In general, greater attributions and expectations pertaining to status maintenance or attainment did not make the linkage between peer status and adolescents’ social behaviors more positive. Instead, this relationship was more positive at lower levels of these attributions and outcome expectancies. In addition, the results demonstrate the complexity of the association between adolescents’ peer status and their social behaviors by focusing on gender and social cognitive processes as moderators in this relationship. A call for additional research aimed at understanding the role of social cognitive processes in adolescents’ behavioral development is made.

Included in

Psychology Commons