An examination of popularity, social preference, depression and loneliness trajectories during early adolescence
Thomas, Katelyn K.
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Although there have been numerous concurrent studies of popularity and social preference, very little was known about the stability of these constructs across the school year and after a summer break (and the transition into another school grade). There are several limitations in past research on popularity and social preference (an exclusive focus on a sample of highly popular adolescents, only considering individual predictors, only studying popularity and not social preference; Bowker, Rubin, Buskirk-Cohen, Rose-Krasnor, & Booth-LaForce, 2010; Cillessen & Borch, 2006). In addition, very little is known about the influence of changes in social preference and popularity on psychological well-being during early adolescence. The present study addressed the limitations of past research by examining: (1) individual- (relational and physical aggression, prosocial behaviors, physical attractiveness) and dyadic-level (friend aggression, popularity, social preference) predictors of initial status and changes in popularity and social preference across three time points (Time 1: Winter, 6 th grade; Time 2: Spring, 6 th grade; Time 3: Fall, 7 th grade); and (2) whether changes in popularity and social preference predict changes in psychological adjustment (loneliness and depressive symptoms). Findings from the present study suggest that social preference may be more stable over time than popularity, and confirm predictors of social preference and popularity found in the literature; however, physical aggression (as well as friend physical aggression) was a negative predictor of both social preference and popularity (and physical aggression negatively predicted changes over time for popularity for boys more strongly than girls). Lastly, depression varied during the academic year, loneliness varied during the summer break, and popularity negatively predicted loneliness over the summer break. The emphasis on developmental change and stability in social standing over time, and popularity and social preference as predictors of psychological well-being provides novel information that adds to the developmental peer relationships field.