Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of Psychology

Degree Type

Education Specialist


Research has shown that children's standing in the peer group is an extremely valid predictor of later developmental problems. Children who are rejected by their peers and who exhibit aggressive behavior have a poor developmental prognosis; these rejected/aggressive children often have problems throughout development and into adulthood. The correlates of peer rejection include distinctive behavioral and social cognitive patterns. Research has shown that rejected/aggressive children's thinking about social situations with peers contributes to a pattern of antisocial behavior. In particular, rejected/aggressive children demonstrate deficits in each of the stages of the social information processing model proposed by Dodge (1986). Research has produced findings suggesting that the information processing of rejected/ aggressive children is very similar to that of children much younger than themselves. Previous studies in children's understanding of emotions have uncovered a phenomenon named the "happy victimizer" effect. Research has shown that many children, from 4 to 8 years old, expect a child who has victimized another child to feel happy following the victimization. The youngest children have especially been found to rationalize the happiness experienced by the victimizer in terms of the acquisition of the material outcome, with little regard for the harm to the victim. Tasks have been developed to study the "happy victimizer" effect, and that also examine one of the stages in Dodge's (1986) social information processing model, the Response Evaluation stage. The purpose of this study was to test further the deficits of aggressive children in the response evaluation stage of information processing and to gain further insights into the developmental changes in children's understanding of emotional consequences. Both age and peer status differences were predicted. A total of 443 children from 4 to 9 years were included in the study. In the first phase of the experiment, subjects participated in sociometric interviews and were classified into five peer status groups, based on social preference scores and aggression nominations. Subjects then participated in a structured interview used by Arsenio and Kramer (1992). This interview format was used to study children's understanding of the mixed emotional consequences which follow victimization of another child. Results suggested clear developmental differences in children's understanding of mixed emotional consequences. Findings support the theory of an attributional shift which occurs as children gain the ability to understand simultaneously occurring, opposite valence emotions. The oldest children generally demonstrated the highest level of moral reasoning. Results also suggested limited support for the hypotheses regarding peer status. Peer status effects were noted in children's attributions of emotions of victimizers following victimization and the rationales children used to explain victimizers' emotions. Children classified as accepted/aggressive generally demonstrated the highest level of moral reasoning.



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