Effects of Observed Positive, Negative and Neutral Social Interactions on Perceived Liking in Children

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Vernon Hall


Integration, Social acceptance, Minority children, Negative social behavior, Socioeconomic background

Subject Categories



Previous correlational research in integration and social acceptance has indicated that minority children and children exhibiting high frequencies of negative social behavior were rated as less socially desirable by classmates than non-minority or children exhibiting lower frequencies of negative social behavior. Other correlational studies in integration have indicated that children rated same-race classmates as more socially desirable than cross-race classmates. The purpose of the present research was to experimentally determine whether children's social desirability ratings of unknown target children were affected by the target child's race, social behavior, or both. Another goal was to assess whether children of different races (i.e., black and white), socioeconomic background (i.e., lower and middle class), grade levels (i.e., kindergarten and first), and with experimenters of different races (i.e., black and white) make similar social desirability ratings based on a target child's race and behavior.

The participants in the study were 64 kindergarten and 64 first grade male children who attended an integrated public school. Each age group consisted of 32 white and 32 black students, equally divided between middle and lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Within each demographic grouping, half of the participants were tested by a white female experimenter, and half were tested by a black male experimenter. All children observed 6 brief videotaped vignettes of 3 black target children and 3 white target children acting out either a positive, negative of neutral social behavior with a passive peer. Three videotapes were used, to vary randomly the order of presentation and to balance for the race of the target child acting out a specific behavior. After each vignette was observed, the child indicated how much he liked the target child on a 7-point scale. When all 6 target children had been rated for likeability, the tape was replayed and the child evaluated the target child's behavior as being good or bad on a 7-point scale. Finally, children were asked to describe whom they would like for a best friend.

Participants' likeability ratings of target children were analyzed in an Experimenter (2) x Subject's Race (2) x SES (2) x Age (2) x Behavior Type (3) x Target's Race (2) repeated measures design. Negative target children were liked significantly less than either positive or neutral target children. The behavioral variable accounted for approximately 50% of the variance in likeability ratings. A significant Behavior Type x Subject's Race interaction accounted for approximately 10% of the variance in likeability ratings. While no racial differences were found in the positive behavior condition, black target children were rated as being less likeable than white target children in both the neutral and negative behavior condition. Other interactions accounted for less than 1% of the variance in scores. These findings were discussed as indicating the importance of behavioral cues in social acceptance, and the situation specific indication of racial prejudice in children.

The evaluation of behavior ratings were also analyzed in a repeated measures design. Behavior Type accounted for over 78% of the variance in scores, whereas none of the interactions approached 2% of the variance. This served as a manipulation check indicating that positive and neutral targets were viewed as behaving significantly better than negative targets. The best friend question indicated that positive behavior was the most frequently mentioned category. Only black children mentioned negative behaviors or physical qualities as a factor in being a best friend. Results were discussed as indicative of the social process in the integrated classroom.