Theses Doctoral

Social preference among affluent middle school students: Implications for short-term and long-term adjustment

Rowe, David Alexander

The primary aims of this study were to: 1) Examine prominent trajectories of social preference over the course of middle school among affluent adolescents; and 2) Identify which social preference trajectories are significantly linked to clinical status (i.e., levels of anxiety and depression) and academic performance among affluent adolescents in short-term (end of 8th grade) and long-term (end of 12th grade) adjustment. Social preference was operationalized as the difference between the number of an individual’s “liked most” peer nominations and “liked least” peer nominations, thus distinguishing middle schoolers who were genuinely prosocial, from those who may have been simultaneously well-regarded by some for their dominance or aggression, while also disliked by others in their peer group. Participants were 286, mostly Caucasian students (136 girls and 150 boys) from three middle schools in one town, where the mean annual family income was $124,000. Questionnaires were used to collect data on clinical symptoms and other outcome variables. Data on academic performance was provided by the school. Using each student’s level of social preference in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades as grouping variables, five trajectories of social preference were identified across 6th, 7th, and 8th grade: consistently high, increasing over time, decreasing over time and two fluctuating trajectories that were both low in social preference. Fluctuating trajectories were labeled Low Cluster “A” and Low Cluster “V” (capturing their curvilinear patterns across three years) and subjected to further analyses. Multivariate analysis of variance was employed to examine the links between these five prominent social preference trajectories and five outcome variables. The trajectory of social preference across 6th, 7th, and 8th grades was not related to long-term adjustment in either clinical status or academic performance, but there were significant effects on short-term adjustment. Adolescents who were consistently high in social preference reported significantly higher 8th grade GPAs and significantly lower levels of anxiety and depression than those in other trajectories. Low Cluster “A”, which was characterized by an increase in social preference from 6th to 7th grade, and a subsequent decrease from 7th to 8th grade, exhibited the lowest GPA. Low Cluster “V”, which was characterized by a decrease in social preference from 6th to 7th grade, and a subsequent increase from 7th to 8th grade, presented significantly more anxiety and depression. This study shows that, overall, middle school students at the low end of social preference suffer clinically and academically, but only in the short term (at the end of middle school) with differences dissipated by grade 12. Moreover, there are distinct changes in social status during middle school that are associated with academic and clinical status.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Clinical Psychology
Thesis Advisors
Luthar, Suniya S.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 27, 2015