Behavioral And Physiological Correlates Of Friendship In Preschool Children

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Forty children between 21 and 64 months of age participated in a study to examine the behavioral and physiological correlates of friendship. Behavioral observations, sociometric interviews and teacher ratings were used to differentiate friends from acquaintances within the sample. Subsequently, dyads of both friends and acquaintances were observed interacting in a laboratory playroom.Heart rate was recorded simultaneously from each member of the dyad during a baseline condition and then during the 10 minute laboratory session. Behavioral observations were also conducted during the 10 minute interaction session. Following the session, saliva samples were obtained from the children for a measure of the production of cortisol, an index of stress.Analysis of the social behavior of the children yielded no significant differences among friend vs. acquaintance dyads perhaps due to the similar levels of stress among the children induced by the unfamiliar laboratory playroom. Heart rate and cortisol levels were elevated in the children when they were paired with acquaintances as opposed to friends in a laboratory free-play session. Elevated heart rate and cortisol levels indicate that the children found the situation stressful.These findings highlight the importance of analyzing differences in physiological measures as they relate to interaction among children. It seems possible that differences in physiological arousal in dyads of young children may be related to stress. Behavioral data combined with information from child interviews, teacher ratings of friendship, physiological measures and laboratory observations of friend dyads and acquaintance dyads contribute to a broader-based data bank on friendship development in preschool children.


Psychology, Developmental

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