Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Children with poor peer relationships are assumed to have a deficit in social skills. Three experiments were designed to examine the possibility that social behavior is controlled by environmental conditions so that the deficit is in performance of social skills rather than learning.;In Experiment 1, children's social behavior was observed under four different conditions: dyads with cooperative toys; dyads with solitary toys, triads with three children or triads with two children and an adult. Four low interactors and 9 high interactors were observed in a cooperative toys dyad and one of the other conditions in an Alternating Treatments Design. Low interactors displayed high rates of social behavior in dyads but not triads, and appeared to be ignored by high interactors in peer triads. Results were attributed to group size and membership.;In Experiment 2, children's social behaviors with member and nonmember peers were observed in classroom groups, dyads, and triads. Children displayed more social behaviors to member than nonmember peers in classrooms (by definition) and in triads, but not in dyads. Low interactors displayed high rates of social behavior not only in dyads but also in triads, where a change in group membership produced more social behavior than in Experiment 1.;In Experiment 3, three low interactors were observed in six dyadic sessions with each of 2 member and 2 nonmember peers--a total of 24 sessions--and the effects were measured in the classroom and in triads. Results from dyads replicated those of Experiments 1 and 2, but in triads the low interactors displayed high rates of social behaviors to both member and nonmember peers. There were no changes in classroom measures, indicating that the relationships formed in the dyads generalized to the same setting but not to the classroom.;The results of the three experiments confirmed that setting events could be manipulated so that low interactors produced high rates of social behaviors and displayed a performance rather than a learning deficit in social skills. Therefore, group size and composition appear to be variables that need to be considered in examining the social competence of children.



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