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A closer look at children's knowledge about social isolation.
Subject:
Children (Research)
Social isolation (Research)
Authors:
Molina, Marie-Helene Gavinski
Coplan, Robert J.
Younger, Alastair J.
Pub Date:
12/22/2003
Publication:
Name: Journal of Research in Childhood Education Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2003 Association for Childhood Education International ISSN: 0256-8543
Issue:
Date: Winter, 2003 Source Volume: 18 Source Issue: 2
Topic:
Event Code: 310 Science & research
Product:
Product Code: E121920 Children
Geographic:
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

Accession Number:
113646794
Full Text:
Abstract. This study examined age differences in the content of children's self-generated descriptions of their classmates' socially withdrawn behaviors (i.e., fearful shyness, self-conscious shyness, active isolation, and social disinterest). Children in Grade 1 (n=42) and Grade 5 (n=42) were interviewed and asked to describe the reasons, behaviors, and emotions of children who play alone. Results indicated that children in both grades made reference to several different reasons why children play alone, along with various behaviors and emotions that children display when playing alone. Children in Grade 5 made more references to self-conscious shyness and anxiety behaviors than did children in Grade 1, and they were more likely to describe peers as "shy." In contrast, more children in Grade 1 described peers as socially disinterested than did children in Grade 5. Across grades, active isolation was viewed as the most problematic form of solitude. Results are discussed in terms of the implications for peer assessment of social withdrawal in school settings.

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Over the last 20 years, researchers have established that children who demonstrate frequent behavioral solitude in the presence of peers at school are more likely to experience concurrent and future socioemotional difficulties (see Rubin, Burgess, & Coplan, 2002, for a recent review). The negative outcomes associated with behavioral solitude are particularly evident from middle childhood to early adolescence, when social withdrawal is associated with negative self-perceptions of social competence and interpersonal relationships (Hymel, Bowker, & Woody, 1993; Rubin, Hymel, & Mills, 1989), as well as feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and depression (Boivin, Hymel, & Bukowski, 1995; Rubin, LeMare, & Lollis, 1990).

A relation between social withdrawal and sociometric assessments of peer rejection and unpopularity emerges in middle to late childhood (e.g., Harrist, Zaia, Bates, Dodge, & Pettit, 1997; Rubin, Chen, & Hymel, 1993), but it is less evident in early childhood (e.g., Ladd & Burgess, 1999; Rubin, 1982; Rubin & Asendorpf, 1993). In explanation of these findings, it has been argued that social withdrawal is less problematic in early childhood because it is typical behavior at younger ages and may, therefore, not be negatively salient to the peer group, and young children do not have well-developed perceptions of socially isolated behaviors (Rubin, 1985; Younger, Schwartzman, & Ledingham, 1985, 1986). Concerns remain, however, over how social withdrawal has been defined and assessed. The goal of the present study was to provide a closer examination of how children perceive social withdrawal. In particular, children's ability to perceive and describe social withdrawal was explored in both early and middle childhood.

Conceptualizing Different Forms of Social Withdrawal and Isolation

It has become increasingly recognized that a lack of social interaction refers to a heterogeneous category of behaviors that vary with regard to situational context, motivational tendencies, and developmental consequences (see Coplan, 2000; Rubin et al., 2002, for recent reviews). Simply stated, starting in early childhood, children play alone for many different reasons.

Some children play alone because other children do not want to play with them. Such children have been described as actively isolated by peers (Asendorpf, 1993; Rubin, 1982, 1985). Actively isolated children demonstrate solitary-active behaviors (i.e., solitary-dramatic and functional play) when playing alone in the company of peers, and engage in aggressive and immature behaviors that contribute to being rejected by others (Coplan, Rubin, Fox, Calkins, & Stewart, 1994; Coplan, Wichmann, & Lagace-Seguin, 2001; Rubin, 1982; Rubin & Mills, 1988). In terms of school adjustment, active isolation is associated with a range of maladaptive outcomes, including social (e.g., externalizing problems) and academic difficulties (Coplan, Wichmann et al., 2001; Rubin & Mills, 1988).

In contrast, other children may voluntarily withdraw themselves from interaction with others. Several different reasons have been postulated as to why children may choose to refrain from social interaction. Unsociable (or socially disinterested) children seem to prefer solitude over socializing with peers (Asendorpf & Meier, 1993; Coplan & Mosher, 2001; Rubin & Asendorpf, 1993). It may be that unsociable children are more object-oriented rather than people-oriented (Jennings, 1975). It has been suggested that unsociable children have a low social-approach motivation, but not necessarily a high social-avoidance motivation (Asendorpf, 1990), and thus are not presumed to have any difficulties when they desire peer interaction (Asendorpf, 1993). Behaviorally, unsociable children are thought to engage in solitary-passive play (quiet exploration and/or constructive activity) while playing alone (Coplan, 2000; Coplan et al., 1994; Coplan & Rubin, 1998). In terms of school adjustment, social disinterest and its related behaviors (i.e., solitary-passive play) have not been associated with social or academic difficulties (e.g., Coplan, 2000; Rubin, 1982), particularly in early childhood.

Another reason children may withdraw from social interaction is because they are shy. Asendorpf (1990) describes shy children as caught in an approach-avoidance conflict. They want to engage in social interaction, but this desire is simultaneously inhibited by a desire to avoid others, due to social wariness and anxiety. Shy children demonstrate reticent behavior (e.g., onlooking behavior, being unoccupied) in the company of peers (Coplan et al., 1994; Coplan, Gavinski Molina, Lagace-Seguin, & Wichmann, 2001), which appears to be reflective of anxiety and fear in social contexts (Coplan, 2000). In school settings, shyness has been associated with internalizing forms of maladaptation, including anxiety, loneliness, and low self-esteem (e.g., Coplan, 2000; Coplan & Rubin, 1998; Rubin et al., 2002).

Buss (1986) has argued that shyness can be further conceptualized into fearful shyness and self-conscious shyness. There appears to be a developmental component to this distinction. Fearful shyness develops during the first year of life and declines as children age. In the presence of unfamiliar people, fearfully shy children retreat, show signs of wariness, and attempt to find comfort in their parents' arms (Buss, 1986). Self-conscious shyness "involves the self as a social object" (p. 40), and emerges at around 4-5 years of age as children become increasingly conscious about being the focus of attention (Buss, 1984). Asendorpf (1990) describes a similar social-evaluative shyness, which is a fear of being evaluated negatively in a particular social situation (e.g., oral presentations). Self-consciously shy children may blush and avoid eye contact (Younger, Schneider, Wadeson, Guirguis, & Bergeron, 2000).

Children's Perceptions of Social Withdrawal

It has been argued that young children may not view social withdrawal as deviant because it is a relatively normative pattern of behavior in early childhood (Rubin, 1982; Younger et al., 1986). As children age, however, they view withdrawn behavior as more deviant and more likely to draw negative attention from peers (Younger & Daniels, 1992).

In a series of studies, Younger and colleagues (e.g., 1985, 1986) explored age-related shifts in children's perceptions of social withdrawal. These researchers directly examined children's perceptions of aggression and withdrawal at different ages, using peer nominations from the Pupil Evaluation Inventory (PEI; Pekarik, Prinz, Liebert, Weintraub, & Neale, 1976). Results indicated that young children find it more difficult to categorize peers reliably as socially withdrawn than as aggressive, although this difficulty disappeared with age.

In interpreting these results, it was suggested that aggression is more salient to younger children than withdrawn behaviors. In support of this notion, Younger and Boyko (1987) reported that younger children also have more difficulty recalling descriptions of hypothetical peers who are socially withdrawn, as compared to aggressive. Moreover, although children's recall of socially withdrawn behavior increases with age, recall of aggressive behavior appears to remain steady (Bukowski, 1990; Younger & Boyko, 1987;Younger & Piccinin, 1989). These studies, however, examined withdrawal only as a single, homogeneous pattern of behavior. In light of recent findings suggesting multiple forms of social withdrawal and isolation, it may be important to reconsider these results. It may well be that a reason for younger children's diffuse view of withdrawal is that the stimuli used were equally diffuse.

The Present Study

The goal of the present study was to examine age differences in the content of children's self-generated descriptions of withdrawn behaviors (i.e., active isolation, social disinterest, fearful shyness, and self-conscious shyness). To accomplish this goal, children's descriptions of the different reasons, behaviors, and emotions associated with "playing alone" were examined. Children from two grades representing early and middle childhood (Grades 1 and 5) were interviewed to ascertain their knowledge of the different forms of social withdrawal.

In order to avoid any preconceived notions associated with the terms "shyness" or "social withdrawal," children in the current study were asked if they knew someone who "does not play a lot with others." This terminology was selected because all forms of social withdrawal and isolation (i.e., fearful shyness, self-conscious shyness, active isolation, and social disinterest) share the common trait of behavioral solitude. The children then were asked a series of questions about why this peer did not play a lot with others, the behaviors and emotions that might be associated with playing alone, as well as whether the various withdrawn behaviors were seen as being problematic in their grade.

Based on the results of previous research (e.g., Crozier & Burnham, 1990; Younger & Piccinin, 1989), it was hypothesized that both Grade 1 and Grade 5 children would refer to the constructs of active isolation, fearful shyness, and social disinterest in their descriptions, while more reference to self-conscious shyness was expected in Grade 5. Moreover, the researchers expected the older children to consider all forms of social withdrawal to be more problematic than would the younger children.

Finally, some evidence suggests that social withdrawal may be more of a risk factor for boys than for girls (Rubin et al., 2002). For example, shyness in girls is more likely to be rewarded and accepted by parents, and result in more positive interactions, whereas shyness in boys is more likely to be discouraged and lead to more negative interactions (e.g., Engfer, 1993; Radke-Yarrow, Richters, & Wilson, 1988; Simpson & Stevenson-Hinde, 1985; Stevenson-Hinde, 1989). In addition, across the lifespan, shyness/withdrawal appears to be more strongly associated with negative outcomes for boys than for girls (Caspi, Elder, & Bem, 1988; Coplan et al., 2001; Morison & Masten, 1991; Rubin, Chen, & Hymel, 1993; Stevenson-Hinde & Glover, 1996). These findings have been interpreted within the context that in a Western society, shyness is less acceptable for boys than for girls (Sadker & Sadker, 1994). Therefore, in the present study, gender differences also were explored in terms of the various reasons, behaviors, and emotions associated with "playing alone."

Method

Subjects

The participants in this study were 84 children attending elementary schools in Ottawa, Canada. There were 42 children from Grade 1 (20 males, 22 females, [M.sub.age] = 6.74 years, SD = .38) and 42 children from Grade 5 (22 males, 20 females, [M.sub.age] = 10.76 years, SD = .31). Grades 1 and 5 were selected as the age groups for this study because this age range has been used in previous studies in this area (e.g., Crozier & Burnham, 1990; Younger et al., 1985, 1986; Younger & Piccinin, 1989). The local school board policy did not permit the collection of ethnicity or racial data, but the SES of the sample varied from middle to upper-middle class.

Procedure

Children were interviewed individually by a trained (1) female researcher. Interviews typically lasted 15 minutes and were recorded on audiocassette for later transcription and analyses. The interview comprised 15 questions adapted from previous research in this area (Crozier & Burnham, 1990; Younger et al., 2000). Each child received the same interview questions in the same order. Interview questions were first pre-tested (for content and clarity) with parents (n=7), teachers (n=4), and children (n=9) of various ages.

Interview protocol. First, children were asked to think of a peer they knew who "did not play a lot with others." Following this, the children were asked to speculate on that peer's reasons for playing alone (e.g., "Why do you think that -- does not play a lot with others?"), behaviors (e.g., "What is -- doing when he/she is not playing with others?"), and emotions (e.g., "How do you think -- is feeling when he/she is not playing with others?").

Children then were asked to think of another peer who "did not play a lot with others," followed by the same questions. This procedure was continued until the child could not think of any more peers who did not play a lot with others. Children then were asked, "What are some other reasons why children might not want to play with others?" This question was followed by the questions concerning behaviors and emotions described above. The average number of responses Grade 1 children made was 5.50 (SD = 2.88), and the average number of responses made by Grade 5 children was 6.62 (SD = 2.57).

Finally, children were asked whether fearful shyness (i.e., "children who play alone because they are scared to play with others"), self-conscious shyness (i.e., "children who play alone because they do not like to be noticed"), active isolation (i.e., "children who play alone because other children do not like them"), and social disinterest (i.e., "children who play alone because they like to play by themselves") might be "a problem in your grade."

Interview response coding. All of the children's responses to the different questions (i.e., why questions, behavior questions, and emotion questions) were coded independently, without linking their responses back to their previous responses. Thus, a child's response would have been coded for mentioning an emotion or a behavior even if that emotion or behavior was inconsistent with the child's explanation as to why that peer was withdrawn. Before coding of the children's responses began, a quick overview of the children's responses was done in order to see if their responses would fit the expected categories. Some categories were added in order to take into account some of the children's responses.

The content of the children's explanations as to why various children did not play a lot with others was coded for indications of children's awareness of fearful shyness (e.g., "because they are scared"), self-conscious shyness (e.g., "because they are embarrassed"), active isolation (e.g., "because no one wants to play with them"), and social disinterest (e.g., "because they want to play alone"). The authors recorded the proportion of children who made at least one mention of each of the withdrawal subtypes in any of their descriptions of "why" peers they knew played alone. Thus, the proportion of children who "mentioned" versus "did not mention" fearful shyness in response to any of the "why" questions was computed. The proportion of children who mentioned or did not mention self-conscious shyness, active isolation, and social disinterest was similarly computed.

Children's answers to the question "What is -- doing when he/she is not playing with others?" were coded for references to various behaviors that children may display when playing alone. The behavioral descriptions were derived from the Play Observation Scale (POS) (Rubin, 1989), an observational taxonomy that has been employed in the study of social withdrawal and social isolation across the past 25 years and has demonstrated excellent inter-rater reliability and construct validity (e.g., Coplan, 2000; Coplan, Gavinski Molina, et al., 2001; Coplan et al., 1994; Rubin, 1982; Rubin, Maioni, & Hormung, 1976; Rubin, Watson, & Jambor, 1978). Past researchers have used combinations of observed behaviors to represent constructs related to internalizing and externalizing behaviors (e.g., Coplan, 2000; Coplan, Gavinski Molina et al., 2001; Coplan et al., 1994; Rubin, 1982; Rubin, Maioni, & Hormung, 1976; Rubin, Watson, & Jambor, 1978). Therefore, for the purposes of this study, groups of described behaviors were created to match the behaviors on the POS. These included references to behaviors related to anxiety (e.g., "hiding," "avoiding," "onlooking"), disruptive behaviors (e.g., "showing off," "getting into trouble," "teasing"), solitary-active play ("playing with an imaginary friend," "talking to himself"), and solitary-passive play (e.g., "playing by herself," "reading"). As before, children were placed into groups that made at least one (versus no) reference to each of the behavioral categories in their responses to the "behavior" questions throughout the interview.

Children's answers to the question "How is -- feeling when he/she is not playing with others?" were coded for references to various emotions that children may display when playing alone. Coded emotions included happy, sad, fearful, embarrassed, angry, and neutral. Children were categorized in terms of whether they referred to each of the above emotions in response to the "emotion" questions throughout the interview.

Finally, children were categorized in terms of their responses to the question of whether each of these behaviors--fearful shyness, self-conscious shyness, active isolation, and social disinterest--was a problem in their grade ("yes" versus "no").

Inter-rater reliability. Inter-rater reliability was computed between 2 trained coders (the interviewer, and a second research assistant who was trained in the coding system) for 30 interviews (15 interviews in each grade--about 37% of the data). For the entire interview coding scheme, Cohen Kappas ranged from k=.77-1.0. Discrepancies in coding were resolved through discussion.

Results

Overview

The goal of these analyses was to explore the main effects and interactions between grade and gender in the prediction of responses to the interview questions. Logit loglinear analysis was employed, because it permits for tests of main effects and interactions of categorical (discrete) variables (Tabachnick & Fidell, 1996). Standardized parameter estimates are reported. No significant grade by gender interactions were found for any analyses. As such, only main effects are reported in the text. As well, given the number of analyses performed, a more conservative alpha level was employed ([alpha]=.01) in order to decrease the probability of Type 1 error.

Responses to "Why" Questions

Overall, 56 (66.7 percent) children made reference to active isolation as a reason why children play alone, 33 (39.3 percent) referred to social disinterest, 31 (36.9 percent) to fearful shyness, and 20 (23.8 percent) to self-conscious shyness. Results from Cochran's Q test analyses (used to compare the frequency distribution of related variables) indicated that active isolation was referred to by more children than any other type of shyness (Q(3)=30.95, p<.01).

A series of logit loglinear analyses was conducted to examine the main effects and interactions between references to different reasons why a child does not play a lot with others, and children's grade and gender. Four separate analyses were conducted, with references to each of the following--fearful shyness, self-conscious shyness, active isolation, and social disinterest--serving as the dependent variable, and with both grade and gender serving as independent variables.

No significant main effects of grade or gender were found for the proportion of children who referred to fearful shyness, active isolation, or social disinterest in their descriptions of why peers played alone. However, for self-conscious shyness, a significant effect of grade did emerge ([lambda]/SE = 3.22, p <.001), with more children in Grade 5 and fewer children in Grade 1 making reference to self-conscious shyness than expected (z=3.6,p <.01). Observed and expected frequencies for each of the responses to the "why" questions for each grade are displayed in Table 1.

Responses to "Behavior" Questions

Overall, 54 (64.3 percent) children made reference to anxious behaviors as a way of explaining what a child is doing when playing alone, 43 (51.2 percent) referred to solitary-passive behaviors, 30 (35.7 percent) to disruptive behaviors, 18 (21.4 percent) to solitary-active behaviors, and 8 (9.5 percent) to seeking contact/play partner. Significantly more children referred to anxious behaviors and solitary-passive behaviors than any other type of behavior (Q(4)=66.56,p <.01).

Results from logit loglinear analyses indicated no significant main effects of grade or gender for the proportion of children who referred to disruptive behaviors, solitary-passive play, or solitary-active play. However, for anxious behaviors, a significant effect of grade emerged ([lambda]/SE=3.06, p <.01), with significantly more children in Grade 5 than expected and fewer children in Grade 1 than expected mentioning anxious behaviors as a way of describing what a child is doing when playing alone (z=3.2, p <.01). Observed and expected frequencies for each of the responses to the "behavior" questions for each grade are displayed in Table 2.

Responses to "Emotion" Questions

Overall, 74 (88.1 percent) children made reference to the emotion "sad" as an explanation as to how a child is feeling when playing alone, 30 (35.7 percent) referred to the emotion "happy," 7 (8.3 percent) referred to the emotion "scared/fearful," 4 (4.8 percent) referred to the emotion "neutral," 3 (3.6 percent) referred to the emotion "angry," and 1 (1.2 percent) referred to the emotion "embarrassed." Results from Cochran's Q test analyses indicated that the emotion "sad" was referred to by more children than any other type of emotion (Q(6)=281.68, p <.01). Further analyses were conducted only for the responses "sad" and "happy," as they represented the only responses where more than 20 percent of cells had an expected frequency of greater than 5. Results from logit loglinear analyses indicated no significant main effects of grade or gender in the proportion of children who referred to sadness or happiness in their descriptions of how peers felt when playing alone.

Responses to "Problem" Questions

Overall, 55 (65.48 percent) children viewed active isolation as a problem in their grade, 38 (45.24 percent) viewed fearful shyness as a problem, 26 (39.95 percent) viewed self-conscious shyness as a problem, and 12 (14.29 percent) viewed social disinterest as a problem. Results from Cochran's Q test analyses indicated that active isolation was viewed as the most problematic behavior (Q(3)=57.31, p <.01).

A final series of logit loglinear analyses was conducted, with responses to whether fearful shyness, self-conscious shyness, active isolation, and social disinterest was "a problem in your grade" ("yes" versus "no") serving as the dependent variable, and both grade and gender serving as independent variables.

No significant main effects of grade or gender were found for the proportion of children who reported that fearful shyness, self-conscious shyness, or social disinterest was a problem in their grade. However, for active isolation, a significant effect of grade did emerge ([lambda]/SE =2.36, p <.01), with significantly more children in Grade 5 and fewer children in Grade 1 indicating that active isolation was a problem in their grade (z=2.4, p < .05). Observed and expected frequencies for each of the "yes" versus "no" responses to the "problem" questions for each grade are displayed in Table 3.

Discussion

The purpose of this study was to examine age differences in the content of children's self-generated descriptions of different types of withdrawn behaviors. Overall, results indicated that children in both Grade 1 and Grade 5 were able to generate various reasons, behaviors, and emotions that describe different forms of social withdrawal. These findings suggest that even younger children have knowledge of, and are able to perceive, different subtypes of social withdrawal in peers, including fearful shyness, self-conscious shyness, active isolation, and social disinterest.

Knowledge of "Why" Children Play Alone

In response to questions about why children might play alone, more children referred to the construct of active isolation than any other reason. Active isolation is conceptually associated with the display of aggression. Results of past research (e.g.,Younger & Boyko, 1987; Younger & Piccinin, 1989) suggest that from an early age, children seem to have a facility to encode and recall descriptions of peers who are aggressive. As such, it was not surprising to note that children were more likely to describe actively isolated children.

However, it is also notable that children at both age levels mentioned several different reasons why a child plays alone, suggesting that they viewed playing alone from a multidimensional perspective. For example, both Grade 5 and Grade 1 children in this study mentioned with equal frequency reasons pertaining to active isolation (e.g., "he plays alone because no one wants to play with him"), social disinterest (e.g., "she plays alone because she likes to play alone"), and fearful shyness (e.g., "he plays alone because he is scared to play with others"). Thus, it appears as though even younger children do not view "playing alone" as a unidimensional concept.

Significant age differences were observed only for self-conscious shyness. Consistent with findings of past research (e.g., Crozier & Burnham, 1990), a higher proportion of children in Grade 5 than in Grade 1 referred to self-conscious shyness as a possible reason why a child plays alone. This finding is in agreement with the notion that younger children tend to lack both the cognitive ability (e.g., appreciation of the social self) and the appropriate socialization experiences (e.g., comments from parents/ peers that other people are observing and evaluating them) (Yuill & Banerjee, 2001).

Furthermore, it has been argued (Asendorpf, 1989; Crozier & Burnham, 1990) that self-conscious shyness is not a substitute for fearful shyness; rather, both can be present in older children. The findings from the present study lend some support to this contention--these results did not indicate a decline with age, in references to fearful shyness.

Knowledge of "Behaviors" Displayed When Children Play Alone

When asked what behaviors peers displayed when playing alone, children in both grades more frequently made reference to solitary-passive behaviors than to disruptive and solitary-active behaviors. The relative frequency of these descriptions is quite consistent with the results of observational research regarding the observed frequency of different solitary behaviors in early childhood. For example, it has been reported that solitary-active behavior only occurs approximately 3 percent of the time during free play (Coplan et al., 1994; Coplan, Wichmann et al., 2001). In contrast, solitary-passive play is quite common during free play, as it is observed to occur between 31 percent and percent of the time (e.g., Coplan, 2000; Coplan, Gavinski Molina et al., 2001).

No age differences were found in terms of references to disruptive behaviors, solitary-passive behaviors, and solitary-active behaviors as ways of explaining what a child is doing when playing alone. This was not surprising, given that both aggressive behaviors and solitary-active play are highly salient and overt, and thus more easily recognizable by both younger and older children (Rubin, 1982; Younger et al., 1985, 1986). Moreover, the fact that solitary-passive play is both common and normative in childhood (Coplan, 2000; Rubin, 1982) likely makes this form of play more readily recognizable to children.

A significant age difference was found for behaviors related to anxiety. A higher proportion of children in Grade 5 than Grade 1 mentioned anxious behaviors. These results are consistent with the literature suggesting that younger children are more sensitive to others' external, overt behavior as compared to others' covert, internal characteristics (Shantz, 1983). Anxious behaviors (e.g., wandering around aimlessly, remaining unoccupied) seem to reflect the "covert" end of the behavioral continuum. Moreover, although younger children have some understanding about self-presentational concerns, they still have some difficulty in understanding how these concerns can lead to feeling anxious in different situations (Yuill & Banerjee, 2001). In addition, as children age, their understanding regarding how self-presentational concerns lead to symptoms of anxiety increases, because of both cognitive factors (e.g., older children are increasingly capable of appreciating the fact that their peers more frequently evaluate them) and social motivational factors (e.g., older children tend to be more worried about being evaluated by others) (Yuill & Banerjee, 2001). In any event, these results suggest that although young children may be less likely to describe certain types of nonsocial behaviors in their behavioral characterizations of withdrawn peers, they still can describe several different behaviors associated with playing alone.

Knowledge of "Emotions" Displayed When Children Play Alone

When asked how a child playing alone might feel, children in both grades made references to sadness and happiness. This finding is in keeping with the notion that children learn about these two emotions sooner, and more readily understand them, as compared to emotions (Michalson & Lewis, 1985).

It was interesting to note that in both grades, more than one-third of children mentioned the emotion "happy" to describe children who play alone. It can be speculated that many children are under the impression that not all peers are sad or upset when they play alone. This pattern of results is consistent with these findings regarding children's descriptions of reasons why some children play alone (i.e., social disinterest), and the types of behaviors (i.e., solitary-passive behaviors) that are exhibited while playing alone. Presumably, children who prefer to play alone would not be expected to appear visibly sad or anxious when doing so (Asendorpf, 1993). Furthermore, the display of solitary-passive behavior is not associated with overt signs of anxiety in early childhood (Coplan, 2000; Coplan et al., 1994).

Social Withdrawal As a "Problem"

Children who do not frequently interact with their peers are thought to be at risk for a host of later maladaptive outcomes (Rubin et al., 2002). In the present study, children in both grades made clear distinctions in terms of which forms of withdrawal might be considered most problematic at school. This provides additional evidence that children are able to differentiate among different subtypes of social withdrawal: children attributed different risk outcomes to different subtypes, with some social withdrawal subtypes viewed as more problematic than others.

At both grades levels, children viewed active isolation as more of a problem at school than other forms of shyness or withdrawal. There is certainly evidence in the literature that active isolation is problematic. Actively isolated children are thought to display aggressive and immature forms of behavior (Rubin & Mills, 1988). Moreover, aggression is among the strongest predictors of peer rejection and is associated with a host of maladaptive outcomes in childhood and adolescence (Parker & Asher, 1987; Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 1998). In addition, a significant age difference was found for the perception of active isolation being a problem. Grade 5 children viewed this behavior as significantly more problematic than did Grade 1 children, suggesting that such behavior may become increasingly deviant with age.

Although viewed as less problematic than active isolation, fearful shyness was considered a problem by more than 40 percent of children across grades, while self-conscious shyness was viewed as problematic by almost one-third of respondents. Less than 15 percent of children across grades viewed social disinterest as a problem. This finding is in keeping with the accumulating research to suggest that shy and socially wary children do experience difficulties in childhood (Rubin & Asendorpf, 1993). It was somewhat unexpected that children in Grade 5 did not view self-conscious shyness as more problematic than did children in Grade 1. It is possible that the wording of the question posed to children ("Some children play alone because they do not like to be noticed") did not fully capture what serf-conscious shyness means. A more detailed description of self-conscious shyness may be warranted.

Caveats and Future Directions

The results from this study provide some of the first empirical evidence to suggest that children as young as 6 attribute a variety of reasons, behaviors, and emotions to children who play alone. In light of these findings, it is possible that past researchers may have underestimated younger children's ability to perceive adequately social withdrawal in their peers.

Future research should be undertaken to replicate and extend these findings. For example, phrasing the initial interview question in the "positive" (i.e., "Why do children play with others?") may elicit different types of responses. Moreover, given that the current sample only consisted of children in Grade 1 and Grade 5, it would be worthwhile to examine the progression of children's knowledge of social withdrawal, as well as their changing cognitive and social motivational factors, at additional age periods from early childhood to adolescence.

The risk status of different forms of shyness and social withdrawal remains somewhat unclear. There is conflicting evidence as to whether different forms of social withdrawal are associated with social and academic maladjustment over time. A better understanding of these constructs and their meaningfulness for young children is an important step in improving the identification process for potentially "at risk" children, and in the development and implementation of intervention programs. It seems clear that different types of socially withdrawn children might benefit from different forms of ameliorative intervention strategies. For example, actively isolated children may be best served by social skills training, whereas fearfully shy children may benefit most from a focus on emotional regulation capabilities. Moreover, there is considerable doubt as to whether socially disinterested children warrant any form of intervention at all. Future research is required to improve assessment protocols, in order to optimize the identification of different forms of socially withdrawn children.

Footnotes

(1) The research assistant had completed a graduate course in child assessment, as well as additional training specific to the current study from a researcher with extensive previous experience in conducting child interviews.

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Marie-Helene Gavinski Molina

University of Ottawa

Robert J. Coplan

Carleton University

Alastair J. Younger

University of Ottawa

Authors' Note: This research was supported by an Ontario Graduate Scholarship to Marie-Helene Gavinski Molina and by a Social Science Research Council of Canada grant to Robert Coplan. The authors wish to thank Kim O'Neil and Gregg Dunn for their help with the transcription and coding of data. They also wish to thank all the principals, teachers, and children who participated in this study. Requests for reprints should be addressed to Marie-Helene Gavinski Molina, School of Psychology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5, Canada, or Robert J. Coplan, Department of Psychology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6, Canada.
Table 1
Observed (Expected) Frequencies of Responses by Grade to
"Why do children play alone?"

                          Reason for Playing Alone

              Fearful    Self-conscious    Active       Social
              Shyness       Shyness       Isolation   Disinterest

Grade 1
No mention   30 (26.5)     39 (32.0)      13 (14.0)    27 (25.5)
Mentioned    12 (15.5)      3 (10.0)      29 (28.0)    15 (16.5)

Grade 5
No mention   23 (26.5)     25 (32.0)      15 (14.0)    24 (25.5)
Mentioned    19 (15.5)     17 (10.0)      27 (28.0)    18 (16.5)

Table 2
Observed (Expected) Frequencies of Responses by Grade to
"How children behave when playing alone"

                       Behavior When Playing Alone

             Disruptive    Anxious    Solitary-   Solitary-
              Behavior    Behavior     Passive     Active

Grade 1
No mention   27 (27.0)    22 (15.0)   20 (20.5)   30 (33.0)
Mentioned    15 (15.0)    20 (27.0)   22 (21.5)   12 (9.0)

Grade 5
No mention   27 (27.0)     8 (15.0)   21 (20.5)   36 (33.0)
Mentioned    15 (15.0)    34 (27.0)   21 (21.5)    6 (9.0)

Table 3
Observed (Expected) Frequencies of Responses by Grade for
"Reasons for playing alone being a problem"

                Reasons for Playing Alone Being a Problem

           Fearful    Self-conscious    Active       Social
           Shyness       Shyness       Isolation   Disinterest

Grade 1
Yes       20 (19.0)     12 (12.8)      22 (27.2)     5 (6.0)
No        22 (23.0)     28 (27.2)      19 (13.8)    36 (35.0)

Grade 5
Yes       18 (19.0)     14 (13.2)      33 (27.8)     7 (6.0)
No        24 (23.0)     27 (27.8)       9 (14.2)    34 (35.0)
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