Friends and Peers: Psychological Perspectives

Barry Schneider

in Childhood Studies

ISBN: 9780199791231
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Friends and Peers: Psychological Perspectives


In the first years of the formal study of psychology, from the late 19th century through the 1930s, relatively little interest was shown in interpersonal relationships except those pertaining to the interactions of parents and children. The social and political climate of the years before World War II resulted in professional interest in the topics of leadership and intergroup conflict. Seminal theorists, especially Jacob Moreno, emphasized the exploration of these topics at the small-group level, where, they believed, leadership was cultivated and intergroup conflict began. The study of the social relationships of individuals in their social groups was a major feature of social psychology from the 1930s through the 1950s. In the decades that followed, the racial desegregation of US schools and the inclusion of pupils with disabilities in regular classes and schools spurred ongoing interest in the social reputations of children and adolescents, focusing on these individual characteristics. As mental-health professionals and policymakers became increasingly concerned with prevention as well as treatment, developmental and clinical psychologists became interested in the social relationships of individuals in their groups as a possible early predictor of psychopathology. Within this context, research focused not only on social reputations, but also on interpersonal behaviors, especially overt, physical aggression, that might be forerunners of psychopathology. Over time, the search for early predictors of mental illness was extended to include the study of social withdrawal and shyness as possible correlates of depression and anxiety. As well, exclusive attention to physical aggression gave way to a more gender-neutral perspective with increased research on covert, verbal, relational forms of aggression that are common among girls and women. Research on social reputation has been joined, especially in the past twenty years, with research on peer relationships at the dyadic level, that is, in relationships between close friends. The redoubled emphasis on friendship has reconciled peer-relations research with the growing interest in the psychology of well-being. Complementing both friendship research and research on reputational processes in recent years is the study of the small groups, crowds, or cliques formed by children and adolescents.

Article.  10573 words. 

Subjects: Development Studies

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