Date of Award

12-2011

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Cynthia A. Erdley

Second Committee Member

Douglas W. Nangle

Third Committee Member

Shannon McCoy

Abstract

The primary purpose of this study was to examine the social information processing of socially withdrawn children within the unique context of best friendship. Specifically, social cognitive processes were investigated for relational and instrumental conflict situations involving a best friend. Furthermore, friendship quality was explored as a potential protective factor against concurrent symptoms of social anxiety and depression. Finally, gender differences in social withdrawal, social information processing, and adjustment were examined. Participants were 194 (80 males) children in the 4th and 5th grades from elementary schools in Maine. Children completed a peer nomination measure of social behavior, self-report measure of socially withdrawn behavior, friendship nominations, measure of friendship quality, and measures of social anxiety and depressive symptoms. Participants also responded to a measure of attributions, social goals, and social strategies for hypothetical instrumental and relational conflict scenarios involving a best friend. Results indicated that friendship quality served a protective function for more socially withdrawn boys against concurrent depressive symptoms. A differing pattern of relationships was found among variables for more socially withdrawn boys and girls, and self-rated social withdrawal was more strongly associated with outcome variables than peer-rated withdrawal. Consistent with expectations, more socially withdrawn boys showed evidence of the self-defeating attribution bias. For boys, self-rated withdrawal was also associated with social anxiety and depressive symptoms and adult dependent social strategies for both instrumental and relational conflicts. Girls showed evidence of the self-defeating attribution bias for instrumental conflicts. Contrary to expectations, more socially withdrawn boys and girls showed evidence of the hostile attribution bias, and self-rated social withdrawal was associated with physically and relationally aggressive social strategies for both boys and girls. Girls also tended to endorse retaliation goals for instrumental situations. Results of this study point to the importance of a focus on improving friendship quality and adaptive social information processing in intervention programs designed for socially withdrawn children. Future research should investigate socially withdrawn children's social information processing and friendship experiences in real-life rather than hypothetical scenarios, and researchers should consider conducting longitudinal investigations to help better understand the true nature of socially withdrawn children's social information processing.

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