1 Developmental Psychology Copyright 2006 by the American Psychological Association 2006, Vol. 42, No. 6, /06/$12.00 DOI: / Popularity, Social Acceptance, and Aggression in Adolescent Peer Groups: Links With Academic Performance and School Attendance David Schwartz University of Southern California Jonathan Nakamoto University of Southern California Andrea Hopmeyer Gorman Occidental College Tara McKay Occidental College This article reports a short-term longitudinal study focusing on popularity and social acceptance as predictors of academic engagement for a sample of 342 adolescents (approximate average age of 14). These youths were followed for 4 consecutive semesters. Popularity, social acceptance, and aggression were assessed with a peer nomination inventory, and data on academic engagement were obtained from school records. For adolescents who were highly aggressive, increases in popularity were associated with increases in unexplained absences and decreases in grade point average. Conversely, changes in social acceptance were not predictive of changes in grade point average or unexplained absences. These results highlight the importance of multidimensional conceptualizations of social standing for research on school adjustment during adolescence and emphasize the potential risks associated with popularity. Keywords: popularity, aggression, social acceptance, academic achievement In this article, we describe a short-term longitudinal study of the association between social standing in the peer group and academic functioning during middle adolescence. A number of researchers have documented relations between students acceptance by peers and their academic functioning at school (DeRosier, Kupersmidt, & Patterson, 1994; O Neil, Welsh, Parke, Wang, & Strand, 1997). Although there may be variability across sociocultural contexts, students who are well liked by their peers tend to be characterized by relatively high achievement (Guay, Boivin, & Hodges, 1999). There is also evidence that social acceptance enhances an adolescent s motivation and interest in the school environment (Wentzel, 1991a). Moreover, a sense of connection to peers can facilitate cognitive engagement in the classroom (Furrer & Skinner, 2003). Research in this domain has often relied on assessments of acceptance or liking by peers to index adolescents social standing David Schwartz and Jonathan Nakamoto, Department of Psychology, University of Southern California; Andrea Hopmeyer Gorman and Tara McKay, Department of Psychology, Occidental College. David Schwartz and Andrea Hopmeyer Gorman made equal contributions to this article, and the order of authorship was determined randomly. This research was supported by a faculty fellowship from the John and Dora Haynes Foundation. We thank Antonius Cillessen (University of Connecticut) for his statistical recommendations and his comments on a version of this article and John McArdle (University of Southern California) for his guidance on multilevel modeling. We thank Philip Gorman for assistance with our analyses of the friendship variables, and the children, teachers, principal, and administrative staff in the participating school. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David Schwartz, Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, 501 Seely G. Mudd, Los Angeles, CA at school (Guay et al., 1999; Wentzel, 2003). In these studies, social acceptance is generally operationalized as an indicator of likability or positive regard from peers (Coie & Dodge, 1983; Coie, Dodge, & Coppotelli, 1982). Typically, the participating youths are asked to identify peers who are well liked or who are preferred as social partners. The resulting indices are associated primarily with positive behavioral features. For example, wellaccepted youths have been described as friendly, responsible, and socially skilled (Wentzel & Erdley, 1993). Behavioral styles of this nature are predictive of positive academic outcomes (Wentzel, 1991b). From a somewhat different tradition, sociological theories on the organization of peer groups during childhood and adolescence have focused on popularity as an indicator of social standing (Adler & Adler, 1998; Eder, 1985; Merten, 1997). These perspectives portray popularity as a shared recognition among peers that a particular youth has achieved prestige, visibility, or high social status (Adler, Kless, & Adler, 1992). Popularity is not viewed as an indicator of liking by peers but rather is seen as a reputational construct involving power and status in the group (Lease, Kennedy, & Axelrod, 2002; Xie, Cairns, & Cairns, 1999). Conceptualized in this manner, popularity has only recently become the subject of significant empirical attention in the developmental psychology literature. Investigators have concluded that popularity is linked to a more mixed pattern of attributes than is social acceptance (LaFontana & Cillessen, 1998). Research conducted across age groups has shown that popularity is associated with prosocial behaviors, on the one hand, and aggressive or dominating behaviors, on the other hand (Butcher, 1986; Luthar & Mc- Mahon, 1996; Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998). On a theoretical level, popularity and social acceptance might be viewed as closely related constructs. Consistent with this suggestion, past researchers 1116
2 POPULARITY AND SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE 1117 have reported moderately high correlations between assessments of social acceptance and popularity (Cillessen & Mayeux, 2004). Nonetheless, there is growing evidence that by middle childhood, being well accepted and being perceived as popular by peers are not synonymous (Gorman, Kim, & Schimmelbusch, 2002). Indeed, children and adolescents who are identified by their peers as being popular are not always especially well liked (Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998; Rose, Swenson, & Waller, 2004). There may also be important differences in the implications of popularity and social acceptance for an adolescent s adjustment at school. Acceptance by peers is predictive of adaptive outcomes in both social (Parker, Rubin, Price, & DeRosier, 1995) and academic domains (Wentzel & Caldwell, 1997). In contrast, popularity can incorporate notable risks for development. For example, popular youths tend to experience increases in relational and overt aggression over time (Cillessen & Mayeux, 2004). Popularity has also been linked to involvement in risky behaviors during adolescence, including sexual experimentation (Prinstein, Meade, & Cohen, 2003) and alcohol use (Mayeux & Sandstrom, 2005). Moreover, research conducted at earlier stages of development suggests concurrent links between popularity and academic difficulties (e.g., Farmer, Estell, Bishop, O Neal, & Cairns, 2003; Rodkin, Farmer, Pearl, & Van Acker, 2000). A central objective of this project was to extend the existing findings on peer relationships and academic outcomes by incorporating multidimensional assessments of social standing. We include assessments of both social acceptance (i.e., desirability as a social partner) and popularity (i.e., reputation of high social status). We sought to investigate independent associations between each dimension of social standing and academic adjustment. As we have described, research on peer relationships and academic outcomes has traditionally emphasized social acceptance, and relatively little is known about the role of popularity. There is a particular need for longitudinal research because the investigations in this area have relied primarily on cross-sectional designs (Gorman et al., 2002). Moreover, the relevant body of literature has been concerned primarily with middle childhood rather than adolescence (e.g., Rodkin et al., 2000). Indeed, we are unaware of any published study that examined longitudinal relations between popularity and academic outcomes during adolescence. Accordingly, we investigated associations between changes in social standing and changes in academic engagement over four consecutive high school semesters. This research was guided by a multidimensional perspective on academic engagement. Researchers have recently conceptualized engagement as a construct that involves a number of interrelated behavioral, cognitive, and motivational components (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004). In terms of behavioral styles, academic engagement is reflected in activities that enhance learning and participation in school (Finn, Folger, & Cox, 1991). Some examples might include regular attendance, classroom participation, and active involvement in educational programs. Academic engagement is also manifested in cognitive and motivational processes that are directly predictive of achievement in the classroom (Connell & Wellborn, 1991). Accordingly, an adolescent who is invested in positive academic outcomes should be characterized by adequate achievement as well as behavioral styles that support classroom performance. For the present study, we conceptualized attendance at school and classroom grade point averages (GPAs) as important indicators of academic engagement. We examined relations between each of the social standing indices and these aspects of school adjustment. Our investigation of the link between popularity and academic engagement also incorporated a focus on potential moderator constructs. In this regard, we were particularly interested in the role of aggression. Aggression and popularity become progressively more intertwined over the course of adolescence, although the associations appear to be strongest for relational subtypes of aggression (Cillessen & Mayeux, 2004). A subgroup of adolescents uses aggression (Prinstein & Cillessen, 2003) and other manipulative behaviors (Rose, Swenson, & Waller, 2004) to reach and maintain high status. Research conducted with elementary school samples has produced cross-sectional evidence that popular aggressive youths are unlikely to experience high achievement (Rodkin et al., 2000). In contrast, popular children with a prosocial orientation tend to be characterized by favorable attitudes toward school (Lease et al., 2002). The hypothesis that youths who are both aggressive and popular are at risk for academic difficulties is supported by research on adolescent peer cultures (Brown, 1990). This work highlights the social pressures that popular youths can encounter. Popularity in school peer groups is partially dependent on compatibility with the values and behavioral orientations of the larger crowd structure (Brown, Clasen, & Eicher, 1986). Adolescents who exhibit behaviors that are inconsistent with these established norms may encounter social sanctions from the peer group (Clasen & Brown, 1985). Social processes of this nature could be particularly relevant for popular youths who also affiliate with aggressive or antisocial crowds (i.e., popular toughs ; see Youniss, McLellan, & Strouse, 1994). Academic pursuits tend to be negatively evaluated in social networks that are characterized by antisocial attributes (Clasen & Brown, 1985). Accordingly, high status in such social contexts may demand active disengagement from school. Similar theoretical perspectives have emerged from research on academic functioning among adolescents from minority ethnic racial backgrounds (e.g., Fordham & Ogbu, 1986). Steinberg, Dornbusch, and Brown (1992) discussed the social pressures that some popular minority youths may encounter. These investigators described conflict between academic achievement and peer popularity (p. 728) in settings in which dominant peer group attitudes toward achievement are negative. Popularity in these peer groups requires conformity with values and behaviors that are predictive of deficient school performance. Although Steinberg et al. focused their discussion on the experience of minority adolescents, their hypotheses might have wider implications regarding the potential risks associated with popularity. Popularity could have negative implications for the school adjustment of any adolescent who seeks high status with academically disengaged peers (e.g., peers who are members of aggressive cliques or crowds). For the current project, we specified longitudinal models that included interactions between aggression and the two indices of social standing. On the basis of the available findings, we expected that aggression would moderate the relation between popularity and students academic functioning at school. In particular, we predicted that popularity would be linked to deficient academic functioning for highly aggressive adolescents. We presumed that aggressive youths who seek popular status would encounter social pressures toward disengagement from the school environment. We
3 1118 SCHWARTZ, GORMAN, NAKAMOTO, AND MCKAY did not expect to find a similar pattern of associations at low levels of aggression because nonaggressive popular youths generally are not characterized by attitudes that are incompatible with high achievement (Lease et al., 2002). Furthermore, in light of our theoretical conceptualization of liking by peers as a unidimensional correlate of positive adjustment at school, we did not anticipate similar interactions between aggression and social acceptance. In addition to examining the implications of the adolescents own aggressive tendencies, we also considered the potential moderating function of affiliations with aggressive friends. During adolescence, friends can play an important role in facilitating adjustment at school (Berndt & Keefe, 1995; Wentzel, Barry, & Caldwell, 2004; Wentzel & Caldwell, 1997). However, friends who are aggressive, disruptive in the classroom, or antisocial are unlikely to model adaptive behaviors that encourage cognitive or behavioral engagement at school (Vitaro, Brendgen, & Wanner, 2005). Because popularity requires a degree of compatibility with the behavioral norms of peers (Brown et al., 1986), we expect popular adolescents to be particularly vulnerable to these negative socializing influences. Therefore, we predicted that popularity would be associated with academic disengagement for youths who establish dyadic affiliations with highly aggressive peers. However, we did not hypothesize that friends aggression would exert a similar moderating influence on the academic outcomes associated with social acceptance. Social acceptance appears to be more closely related to prosocial dispositions and personal attractiveness than to compatibility with the values of the peer network (e.g., Wentzel & Erdley, 1993). In summary, in the present study, we sought to extend the current understanding of the link between peer relationships during adolescence and academic functioning by incorporating multidimensional assessments of social standing. We were particularly interested in examining aggression and aggression levels among friends as potential moderators of the association between popularity and academic functioning. To address these research goals, we used a short-term longitudinal design, with four waves of data collected over 2 high school years. We focused on middle adolescence because, by this developmental stage, youths are apt to have well-established beliefs about the role of popularity (Juvonen & Murdock, 1995). Participants Method Participants were 342 adolescents (174 boys, 168 girls) from a moderately sized public high school (approximately 1,200 total students) in a semiurban area of Los Angeles County. The surrounding neighborhoods were characterized by low to moderate crime rates and a high percentage of single-family homes. The families living in these neighborhoods were predominately from lower middle-class socioeconomic backgrounds (United Way of Greater Los Angeles, 1999). The composition of the sample (ascertained from school records) was as follows: 50% European American, 35% Latino, 7% Asian or Pacific Islander, 5% Armenian, 2% African American, and 1% Native American. English and Spanish language versions of a parental consent letter were sent home with each of the eligible students attending the school. Students who returned positive parental permission were also asked to indicate in writing that they were willing to take part in the project. The consent and assent forms reminded participants that the project was voluntary and that permanent records of names would not be kept. Nineteen parents (5.06%) denied their children permission to participate in the project. The student population was relatively stable over the course of the project, reflecting moderate turnover rates in the school district as a whole. Accordingly, sample attrition from Time 1 (T1) to T4 was minimal, with 26 students moving from the school before the completion of data collection. In addition, 7 participants opted to withdraw during the project. Retained students and attrited students did not differ on any of the T1 measures. Data were collected when the adolescents were in the 9th (approximate average age of 14 years old) and 10th grades (approximate average age of 15 years old). Four waves of data were obtained, with assessments conducted in the fall and spring of each year. Consecutive time points were separated by 24-week intervals. At all four time points, questionnaires were group-administered in English classes, in a session lasting approximately 50 min. The participants were read standardized instructions, and questionnaire items were read aloud. The participants completed inventories assessing loneliness and school belonging and a peer nomination inventory. The peer nomination inventory assessed popularity, acceptance, friendship, aggression, and several other dimensions of behavioral reputation (see Gorman et al., 2002). Measures The same measures were collected at all time points. Popularity and acceptance were assessed with peer ratings, whereas friendship and aggression were assessed with peer nominations. When comparable measures are used with younger children, the participants are typically asked to evaluate all consenting classmates (e.g., Hymel, 1986; Ladd & Oden, 1979). This methodology is not optimal for the high school setting because students interact with peers in different classes. Accordingly, we adopted an approach similar to that used by Parkhurst and Asher (1992) with an adolescent sample (also see Rose, Swenson, & Carlson, 2004). We generated random lists of 50 peers for each participant to evaluate, with the constraint that the participant s own name could not appear on his or her list. In addition, we required that each participant s name appear on 50 separate lists. The same list of peers was on every page of the questionnaire. The school used a cluster system, with the same students taking core classes together. Students across clusters could interact in elective classes, activities outside of class, and lunch. Given the large size of the school and the cluster system, we did not expect the participants to be familiar with all of the peers in their grade. Accordingly, participants were asked to identify peers they did not know well enough to evaluate by circling 0 on the popularity scales. With these procedures, each participant evaluated approximately 14% of the sample. The mean number of participants who evaluated each student was 28.6 (SD 6.7). The participants rated the same peers at T1 and T2, but new lists were generated at T3, excluding participants who left the school after the 1st year of the study. We selected items that have been validated in past research (Parkhurst & Asher, 1992) and have been shown to correlate well with other relevant peer nomination indicators (Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998). Because time limitations precluded collection of data on specific behavioral subtypes, we emphasized global assessments of each construct. For example, we did not assess relational or overt subtypes of aggression (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995) but instead attempted to tap hostility and anger toward peers as a larger behavioral disposition. Popularity and social acceptance. The participants were asked to indicate how popular each of the peers on their list was on a scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to5(very popular). In a similar manner, participants were asked to indicate how much they liked to hang out with each of the peers on their list, using a scale ranging from 1 (not at all)to5(very much). Popularity and social acceptance scores were generated on the basis of the mean rating received by each participant. This approach follows proce-
4 POPULARITY AND SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE 1119 dures used by Asher and Hymel (1986; Oden & Asher, 1977) in which participants were asked to indicate how much they liked to play with, work with, or be in activities with specific peers. We substituted the wording hang out with for play with to optimize the suitability of the item for adolescents (as per Graham & Juvonen, 1998, 2002). We opted to assess social standing with ratings (instead of nominations) on the basis of the recommendations of Asher and colleagues (e.g., Asher & Hymel, 1986). These researchers concluded that ratings optimize the reliability and validity of social standing indices. Pragmatically, however, ratings and nominations are likely to provide similar forms of information (Asher & Dodge, 1986). Likewise, the available data (Cillessen & Bukowski, 2000; Jiang & Cillessen, 2005) suggest that acceptance items that tap liking by peers (e.g., kids you like the most) have similar psychometric properties to items that tap desirability as a social partner (e.g., kids you like to play with) and assess closely related aspects of standing (Asher & Dodge, 1986). Aggression. As part of the peer nomination procedure, participants were asked to identify peers who get mad easily and who are mean. Each descriptor appeared on a separate page, with a list of the peers to be evaluated below. Participants were asked to circle the names of peers who fit each item and were told that they could select as many or as few names as they wanted. A participant s score on each item was based on the number of nominations he or she received on a particular item divided by the number of students who indicated that they knew the participant. Although unlimited nomination approaches of this nature are resource intensive, the resulting estimates can offer improvements in validity and reliability over indices generated via limited nominations (Terry, 2000). For later analysis, we generated the mean of the two aggression items for each wave of data collection (rs.70, ps.001, between the two items at each time point). The items that we used for this project were derived from a four-item aggression scale that has been validated in a number of past studies (e.g., Hopmeyer & Asher, 1997) and was initially developed primarily to tap overt subtypes of aggression. The full scale included the two items used in the current investigation as well as two additional items: hits, pushes, and kicks and starts fights. The internal consistency for the full scale was high (.96). The items that we selected were strongly correlated with the scale total (rs.85, ps.005) and appeared to detect aggressive behavior among both boys and girls (i.e., with nonsignificant gender differences). Other researchers have found that similar items correlate well with aggression assessments obtained from teachers, peers, and independent observers (e.g., Dodge, Pettit, & Bates, 1994) and exhibit strong construct validity (e.g., Schwartz, Dodge, Pettit, & Bates, 1997). Friendship. The participants were given an alphabetized list of all consenting students in their grade. They were asked to circle the names of their closest friends and were instructed that they could circle as many or as few names as they liked. In keeping with past research (Bukowski & Hoza, 1989; Price & Ladd, 1986), participants were classified as friends only if they reciprocally nominated each other. The mean number of friends each participant had was 9.32 (SD 7.56) at T1, (SD 7.83) at T2, (SD 9.83) at T3, and (SD 10.22) at T4. A relatively large number of friendship dyads were identified, probably because we relied on an unlimited nomination approach. We used this procedure given concerns that restricting adolescents friendship choices to a fixed number of nominations might lead to an incomplete picture of their friendship networks (cf. Furman, 1996). To enhance the ecological validity of the assessment, we also allowed participants to choose friends from the full grade (instead of restricting potential friendship choices to one specific classroom). GPA and unexplained absence data. School records were reviewed at each time point. GPA was calculated as the mean of the students five academic course grades for each semester, with a possible range of 0.0 to 4.0. Unexplained absences were a tally of the number of days students were absent from school without a valid explanation (range of 0 to 70). A valid explanation was defined by the school as a documented illness, injury, or family emergency. Overview Results We examined our primary hypotheses using multilevel models that included both random and fixed effects (Singer, 2002), estimated with full maximum likelihood. Our analyses focused on the influence of between-subjects factors (i.e., aggression, popularity, and social acceptance) on linear within-subject changes in academic engagement. Guided by the recommendations of Singer and Willett (2003), we implemented our analyses using PROC MIXED in the SAS statistical package, Version 9.0 (Littell, Milliken, Stroup, & Wolfinger, 1996). An unstructured error covariance matrix was specified for each of the models (for a relevant discussion, see Long & Pellegrini, 2003). With this structure, all parameters are allowed to vary so that model fit (in terms of deviance statistics) can be optimized. More parsimonious structures are often preferable because fewer unknown parameters are estimated (Singer & Willett, 2003). Accordingly, we conducted exploratory analyses specifying our models with alternative error covariance matrix structures. Model fit was strongest with an unstructured covariance matrix, but the differences in fit indices were not large. Although social acceptance and popularity are conceptualized as distinct dimensions of social standing (Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998), investigators have consistently reported moderate to high correlations between these two indices (LaFontana & Cillessen, 1999; Prinstein & Cillessen, 2003). In the current investigation, popularity and acceptance were significantly correlated at each time point (correlations ranged from.61 to.67, all ps.001). Empirical associations between social acceptance and popularity could complicate interpretation of any findings because the constructs are not fully independent. For example, the effect of popularity on academic engagement may partially reflect the tendency for popular youths to be well liked. To address this issue, in each of our models we included simultaneous estimates for the linear effects of acceptance and popularity. Therefore, our analyses estimate the effects of popularity with acceptance controlled and acceptance with popularity controlled. Preliminary Analyses and Descriptive Statistics Gender differences in the correlates of popularity were not a primary focus in this investigation but were examined for descriptive purposes. As Table 1 depicts, girls received higher GPAs than did boys in three of the four waves. We did not find gender effects for aggression (consistent with Prinstein & Cillessen, 2003), a pattern that might reflect our use of items that assess hostility and anger as a dispositional behavioral style. Such items may tap both relational and overt forms of aggression (Little, Jones, Henrich, & Hawley, 2003). In addition, before specifying our final growth curve models, we conducted exploratory analyses that included Gender Predictor interactions (e.g., Gender Social Standing). None of the specified gender interactions approached significance. Accordingly, we did not include gender as a term in any of our final models.
5 1120 SCHWARTZ, GORMAN, NAKAMOTO, AND MCKAY Table 1 Means, Standard Deviations, and t tests for Boys and Girls for All Variables Boys Girls Variable M SD M SD t(340) Time 1 Popularity a Social acceptance a Aggression b GPA c ** Unexplained absences d Time 2 Popularity a * Social acceptance a Aggression b GPA c * Unexplained absences d Time 3 Popularity a Social acceptance a Aggression b GPA c * Unexplained absences d Time 4 Popularity a Social acceptance a Aggression b GPA c Unexplained absences d a The popularity and social acceptance scores are the average ratings on a 5-point scale. b The aggression scores represent the average of individual students proportion scores on the two aggression items. We calculated proportion scores by dividing the number of nominations each student received on a particular item by the number of students who indicated that they knew the participant. c The grade point average (GPA) score was calculated on a 4.0 scale. d The unexplained absences score is the average number of days missed during the semester. * p.05. ** p.01. Means, standard deviations, and stability estimates (i.e., T1 T4 correlations) for all variables are depicted in Table 2. As shown, the stability of each of the constructs was high. However, it is important to emphasize that within-individual change can still be meaningful even when between-individuals differences remain relatively stable over time (Wohlwill, 1973). Correlations among all variables are presented in Table 3. There were significant first-order correlations between popularity and Table 2 Means, Standard Deviations, and the Correlation Between Time 1 and Time 4 for All Variables for the Entire Sample at the Four Time Points Time 1 Time 2 Time 3 Time 4 Variable M SD M SD M SD M SD Time 1 Time 4 r Popularity a *** Social acceptance a *** Aggression b *** GPA c *** Unexplained absences d *** a The popularity and social acceptance scores are the average ratings on a 5-point scale. b The aggression scores represent the average of individual students proportion scores on the two aggression items. We calculated proportion scores by dividing the number of nominations each student received on a particular item by the number of students who indicated that they knew the participant. c The grade point average (GPA) score was calculated on a 4.0 scale. d The unexplained absences score is the average number of days missed during the semester. *** p.001.
6 POPULARITY AND SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE 1121 Table 3 Correlations Between Popularity and Social Acceptance, and Aggression and the Academic Functioning Indices Variable Aggression a GPA b absences c Unexplained Time 1 Popularity d.21*** Popularity with social acceptance partialled d.40*** Social acceptance d.14* Social acceptance with popularity partialled d.37*** Time 2 Popularity d.13* Popularity with social acceptance partialled d.37***.13*.12* Social acceptance d.21***.12*.09 Social acceptance with popularity partialled d.40***.17**.15** Time 3 Popularity d * Popularity with social acceptance partialled d.34***.20**.23*** Social acceptance d.32***.11*.09 Social acceptance with popularity partialled d.46***.21***.22*** Time 4 Popularity d ** Popularity with social acceptance partialled d.33***.09.26*** Social acceptance d.28*** Social acceptance with popularity partialled d.43***.14*.23*** a The aggression scores represent the average of individual students proportion scores on the two aggression items. We calculated proportion scores by dividing the number of nominations each student received on a particular item by the number of students who indicated that they knew the participant. b The grade point average (GPA) score was calculated on a 4.0 scale. c The unexplained absences score is the average number of days missed during the semester. d The popularity and social acceptance scores are the average ratings on a 5-point scale. * p.05. ** p.01. *** p.001. aggression at two of the time points and significant semipartial correlations between popularity and aggression (with acceptance controlled) at all four time points. In contrast, social acceptance was negatively correlated with aggression across waves. The effect sizes for these associations ranged from small to medium (Cohen, 1988). We did not find a strong pattern of first-order correlations between the social standing indices and the academic functioning variables. However, with the variance from social acceptance controlled, popularity was positively correlated with unexplained absences at each of the final three time points and negatively correlated with GPA at T2 and T3. In turn, with the variance from popularity controlled, social acceptance was negatively correlated with unexplained absences and positively correlated with GPA at each of the final three data collection points. The effect size for each of these correlations was small. Aggression as a Moderator of the Relation Between Social Standing and GPA As a first step in our inferential analyses, we examined the moderating role of aggression in the prediction of GPA from popularity and social acceptance (see Table 4). To provide a baseline for evaluation of our theory-driven model (as per Singer & Willett, 2003), we began by specifying an unconditional means model (Model 1) and an unconditional growth model (Model 2). The unconditional means model did not include any predictor variables (implying a flat trajectory for GPA), and the unconditional growth model included time as the only predictor variable (implying change in GPA that is not accounted for by substantive predictors). We then specified our full model (Model 3) predicting changes in GPA from time, changes in popularity, changes in aggression, and changes in social acceptance. This model also included interaction effects for Changes in Popularity Changes in Aggression and for Changes in Acceptance Changes in Aggression. Fit statistics and parameter estimates for the models are summarized in Table 4. Comparison of the deviance statistics for the three models revealed a significant difference in the fit of the unconditional growth model and unconditional means model. Further comparisons also revealed differences in the fit of the full model and the fit of the unconditional growth and unconditional means models. Taken together, these findings indicate that the social standing and aggression variables made significant contributions to model fit. In the full model, there were significant negative effects for time and changes in aggression. Thus, there were modest within-subject declines in GPA over the waves of data collection. Moreover, increases in aggression were associated with decreases in GPA. In addition to the described main effects, there was a significant interaction between changes in popularity and changes in aggression. To decompose this later effect, we used procedures recommended by Aiken and West (1991). We specified models predicting changes in GPA from changes in popularity with changes in aggression fixed at low (1 standard deviation below the mean),
7 1122 SCHWARTZ, GORMAN, NAKAMOTO, AND MCKAY Table 4 Estimates of Fixed Effects, Variance Components, and Fit Indices From the Individual Growth Models in Which Several Variables Predict the Changes in Adolescents Grades Variable Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4 Fixed effects Main effects Time (0.0010)*** (0.0010)*** (0.0010)** Popularity a (0.0043) (0.0043) Social acceptance a (0.0047) (0.0046) Aggression b (0.0204)** Friends aggression c (0.0348)*** Interaction terms Popularity a Aggression b (0.0302)** Social Acceptance a Aggression b (0.0443) Popularity a Friend s Aggression c (0.0619) Social Acceptance a Friends Aggression c (0.0897) Variance components Level 1 Within-person (0.0001)*** (0.0001)*** (0.0001)*** (0.0000)*** Level 2 In initial status (0.0004)*** (0.0004)*** (0.0004)*** (0.0004)*** In rate of change (0.0000)*** (0.0000)*** (0.0000)*** Covariance (0.0001) (0.0001) (0.0001) Fit indexes Goodness of fit Deviance AIC BIC Model comparison deviance Model *** 79.4*** 23.5*** deviance Model *** 77.5*** Note. Model 1 is the unconditional means model. Model 2 is the unconditional growth model. Model 3 includes the main effects of popularity, social acceptance, and aggression as well as the Popularity Aggression and Social Acceptance Aggression interaction terms. Model 4 includes the main effects of popularity, social acceptance, and friends aggression as well as the Popularity Friends Aggression and Social Acceptance Friends Aggression interaction terms. Values in parentheses are the standard errors. Deviance 2 log likelihood; AIC Akaike s information criterion; BIC Bayesian information criterion; deviance Model 1 deviance of Model 1 deviance of current model; deviance Model 2 deviance of Model 2 deviance of current model. a The popularity and social acceptance scores are changes in the average ratings on a 5-point scale. b The aggression scores represent changes in the average of individual students proportion scores on the two aggression items. We calculated proportion scores by dividing the number of nominations each student received on a particular item by the number of students who indicated that they knew the participant. c The friends aggression scores represent changes in the mean level of aggression across each participant s friends. ** p.01. *** p.001. medium (mean), and high (1 standard deviation above the mean) levels. Changes in social acceptance were entered as a covariate in each of these models. For high changes in aggression, there was a negative association between changes in popularity and changes in GPA (B 0.02, p.05). The effects were nonsignificant for medium changes in aggression (B 0.00) and for low changes in aggression (B 0.01). Consistent with our hypotheses, increases in popularity were associated with declines in GPA for students who were also experiencing increases in aggression. Friends Aggression as a Moderator of the Relation Between Social Standing and GPA Next, we examined the moderating role of friends aggression in the prediction of GPA. For these analyses, we calculated the mean level of aggression across each participant s friends at each data collection point (for similar analytic approaches, see Criss, Pettit, Bates, Dodge, & Lapp, 2002; Vitaro et al., 2005). We then specified a model predicting changes in GPA from changes in friends aggression, changes in popularity, changes in social acceptance, Changes in Popularity Changes in Friends Aggression, and Changes in Social Acceptance Changes in Friends Aggression (Model 4). As Table 4 depicts, the fit of this model was poor. Comparison of the deviance statistics indicated that fit was better for the unconditional means and unconditional growth models than for the full model. Moreover, the specified interaction terms failed to reach significance. Overall, the findings do not provide any support for the hypothesized moderating role of aggression levels among friends.
8 POPULARITY AND SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE 1123 Aggression as a Moderator of the Relation Between Social Standing and Unexplained Absences We used a similar analytic strategy to investigate the moderating role of aggression in the prediction of unexplained absences (see Table 5). First, we specified an unconditional means model (Model 1) and an unconditional growth model (Model 2). We then specified a model predicting changes in unexplained absences from time, changes in social acceptance, changes in popularity, and changes in aggression (Model 3). This model also included interaction terms for Changes in Social Acceptance Changes in Aggression and for Changes in Popularity Changes in Aggression. Fit indices and parameter estimates for the models are summarized in Table 5. As depicted, the difference in deviance statistics for the unconditional growth model and the unconditional means model was significant. In addition, the full model had a significantly better fit than the unconditional means and unconditional growth models. In the full model, there were significant positive effects for time, changes in aggression, and changes in popularity. That is, there were within-subject increases in the total number of unexplained absences from T1 to T4, and increases in aggression and popularity were associated with increases in unexplained absences. The significant main effect findings were accompanied by an interaction between changes in popularity and changes in aggression. To decompose this effect, we specified models predicting changes in unexplained absences from changes in popularity with changes in aggression fixed at low, medium, and high. The association between changes in popularity and changes in unexplained absences increased in magnitude as changes in aggression moved from low (B 0.02, ns) to medium (B 0.06, p.01) to high (B 0.10, p 0.001). Table 5 Estimates of Fixed Effects, Variance Components, and Fit Indices From the Individual Growth Models in Which Several Variables Predict the Changes in Adolescents Unexplained Absences Variable Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4 Fixed effects Main effects Time (0.0069)*** (0.0069)*** (0.0067)*** Popularity a (0.0247)* (0.0244)* Social acceptance a (0.0315) (0.0300)* Aggression b (0.1287)*** Friends aggression c (0.2276)** Interaction terms Popularity a Aggression b (0.1900)** Social Acceptance a Aggression b (0.2922) Popularity a Friends Aggression c (0.4081) Social Acceptance a Friends Aggression c (0.5950) Variance components Level 1 Within-person (0.0029)*** (0.0028)*** (0.0029)*** (0.0027)*** Level 2 In initial status (0.0079)*** (0.0088)*** (0.0082)*** (0.0082)*** In rate of change (0.0014)*** (0.0014)*** (0.0013)*** Covariance (0.0027) (0.0027) (0.0026) Fit indexes Goodness of fit Deviance AIC BIC Model comparison deviance Model *** 146.5*** 269.7*** deviance Model *** 156.7*** Note. Model 1 is the unconditional means model. Model 2 is the unconditional growth model. Model 3 includes the main effects of popularity, social acceptance, and aggression as well as the Popularity Aggression and Social Acceptance Aggression interaction terms. Model 4 includes the main effects of popularity, social acceptance, and friends aggression as well as the Popularity Friends Aggression and Social Acceptance Friends Aggression interaction terms. Values in parentheses are the standard errors. Deviance 2 log likelihood; AIC Akaike s information criterion; BIC Bayesian information criterion; deviance Model 1 deviance of Model 1 deviance of current model; deviance Model 2 deviance of Model 2 deviance of current model. a The popularity and social acceptance scores are changes in the average ratings on a 5-point scale. b The aggression scores represent changes in the average of individual students proportion scores on the two aggression items. We calculated proportion scores by dividing the number of nominations each student received on a particular item by the number of students who indicated that they knew the participant. c The friends aggression scores represent changes in the mean level of aggression across each participant s friends. * p.05. ** p.01. *** p.001.
9 1124 SCHWARTZ, GORMAN, NAKAMOTO, AND MCKAY The overall pattern of findings indicates that youths who experienced concurrent increases in popularity and aggression were also characterized by increases in unexplained absences over time. Consistent with our earlier analyses examining GPA as an outcome variable, youths who were both aggressive and popular seemed to experience declines in academic engagement over time. Friends Aggression as a Moderator of the Relation Between Social Standing and Unexplained Absences Our final series of analyses examined the prediction of unexplained absences from social standing and friends aggressiveness. We specified a multilevel model predicting changes in unexplained absences from changes in popularity, changes in social acceptance, changes in friends aggression, Changes in Popularity Changes in Friends Aggression, and Changes in Social Acceptance Changes in Friends Aggression (Model 4). As depicted in Table 5, the fit for this model was significantly better than the fit of the unconditional means and unconditional growth models. There were also significant positive effects for time, changes in aggression among friends, and changes in popularity as well as a negative effect for changes in social acceptance. Again, however, we did not find interactions between the friends aggression scores and the social standing indices. Contrary to our hypotheses, aggression levels among friends did not moderate the relation between popularity and unexplained absences. Discussion Past investigators have conceptualized social standing with peers as an important correlate of positive academic outcomes (Guay et al., 1999; Wentzel, 2003; Wentzel & Caldwell, 1997). However, research in this area has relied primarily on assessments of acceptance by peers to index high status in the peer group. We sought to build on the existing work by also including an assessment of popularity, operationalized as a reputational construct involving peer perceptions of high status and social power (Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998). We were particularly focused on aggression and aggression levels among friends as potential moderators of the link between popularity and school functioning. High status among aggressive peers can require conformity with behaviors and attitudes that are not compatible with achievement and behavioral engagement at school (Clasen & Brown, 1985). Accordingly, we predicted that popularity would be linked to negative school outcomes for youths who were also experiencing increases in aggressive behavior. The results of our analyses are supportive of this hypothesis and highlight the potential risks associated with popularity during middle adolescence. Consistent with our predictions, multilevel models produced evidence that the implications of popularity for academic adjustment during adolescence are dependent on the adolescent s own level of aggression. In particular, our analyses yielded significant interactions between aggression and popularity in the prediction of trajectories for GPA and absenteeism. At high levels of aggression, increases in popularity were associated with declines in GPA and increases in unexplained absences from school. In contrast, at low levels of aggression, popularity was not linked to increased absenteeism or declines in classroom performance. Thus, popularity was linked to increased academic maladjustment, but only for adolescents who were also experiencing increases in aggressive behavior. Our findings also replicate and extend results from crosssectional research conducted with younger samples. For example, Rodkin et al. (2000) examined subgroups of popular students in preadolescent peer groups. These investigators reported that tough popular students were low in academic competence whereas model popular students experienced more positive academic adjustment. Other researchers have also reached similar conclusions on the basis of research conducted in elementary school settings (e.g., Farmer et al., 2003; Lease et al., 2002). Peer relationships undergo significant reorganizations as youths negotiate the transition from childhood to early adolescence and then to middle adolescence (Brown, 1990). Nonetheless, aggression and popularity may have implications for academic adjustment across a wide period of development. What underlies the risks that seem to be associated with popularity for aggressive youths? Although much remains to be learned, the social and academic goals of these students might be important to consider. Adolescents who develop a social reputation as popular by behaving aggressively and performing poorly in school may feel that they cannot easily improve their behavior without changing their standing in the high-status crowd (Juvonen, 1996; Juvonen & Murdock, 1995). Some aggressive students may disengage from school as a strategy for achieving or maintaining their popular status with peers. Popular adolescents who are aggressive could seek to impress other aggressive or antisocial peers by adopting behaviors that are consistent with the values of the larger peer group. Processes of this nature may be particularly relevant in settings in which academic excellence is not likely to be positively evaluated by the peer group as a whole. To the extent that social standing is a more central goal for adolescents than academic achievement, popularity could be predictive of longer term risk for academic problems. Unfortunately, adolescents in these situations likely pose a serious challenge to interventions. It may be very difficult to convince popular adolescents that their current prestige comes at an eventual cost. Although attempts to achieve status in larger peer structures may be linked to academic difficulties, we did not find any evidence that affiliation with aggressive peers on a more dyadic level was associated with similar risks. Aggression levels among friends did not moderate the association between popularity and academic functioning. That is, we did not find significant interactions between popularity and friends aggression in the prediction of academic outcomes. Nonsignificant effects do not provide a strong foundation for conclusions, and caution seems particularly warranted given the conservative nature of interaction effects in quasi-experimental designs (McClelland & Judd, 1993). Nonetheless, the full pattern of findings might suggest that the mechanisms underlying the risk associated with popularity and aggression involve processes that occur outside the immediate context of dyadic relationships. Our models also failed to yield any evidence that social acceptance by peers is predictive of academic maladjustment. Changes in social acceptance were not significantly associated with changes in academic functioning at any level of aggression. Once again, we must caution against strong interpretation of null effects. Still, the full pattern of findings is consistent with conceptualizations of social acceptance as a dimension of standing with peers that is
10 POPULARITY AND SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE 1125 dependent on prosociability rather than conformity. Adolescents do not necessarily need to adopt attitudes and behaviors that coincide with the norms of the peer group (e.g., negative attitudes toward school in social networks of aggressive youths) to be well liked. Although popularity may require conformity, acceptance by peers could be more dependent on an adolescent s social skills. A caveat to these findings is that our models were specified with popularity and social acceptance entered as simultaneous predictors. One of our goals was to investigate the independent prediction associated with each dimension of social standing. Accordingly, we examined the relations between popularity and academic engagement with social acceptance statistically controlled. Essentially, our models assessed academic outcomes for popular youths who were not also well accepted. The overall pattern of findings is consistent with past analyses that included popularity as the sole predictor variable (i.e., without control for social acceptance; Nakamoto, Gorman, Schwartz, & McKay, 2004), but interpretation of models with multiple covariates requires caution. 1 Before we move on to our concluding comments, some potential strengths and limitations of this project should be identified. The longitudinal aspect of our findings represents an important contribution of this investigation, but the conclusions that can be drawn are necessarily limited by our short-term design. Meaningful changes in school adjustment may be easier to detect with longer term designs (for relevant comments, see Schwartz, Gorman, Nakamoto, & Toblin, 2005). By the middle years of adolescence, between-subjects differences in academic functioning are already well established, and marked fluctuations over short periods are relatively unlikely. In the present data set, we found high stability in GPA and attendance over 2 school years. Perhaps as a result, our findings were generally characterized by small effect sizes. A related issue is that our findings should not be generalized to developmental stages other than middle adolescence. The available findings indicate that there are shifts in the correlates of popularity across development (Cillessen & Mayeux, 2004). There may also be developmental differences in how academic motivation affects individuals social adjustment (Juvonen & Murdock, 1995). It is not yet clear whether the academic outcomes associated with aggression, social acceptance, and popularity remain constant across age groups. These issues are important to consider as educators seek to identify subgroups of students who are likely to experience absenteeism and other forms of disengagement from the school environment. Other analytic complexities relate to our assessment of aggression. We selected items from a larger scale designed to assess overt aggression. Longitudinal research has demonstrated predictive links between overt aggression and popularity (Prinstein & Cillessen, 2003). In addition, research on the risk associated with exposure to aggressive peers has also tended to emphasize overtly aggressive behaviors (Criss et al., 2002). However, relational aggression plays an increasingly important role in determining social status over the course of development (Cillessen & Mayeux, 2004). Accordingly, it may be necessary to replicate our findings with more multifaceted assessments (i.e., including assessments of relational and other social forms of aggression; Galen & Underwood, 1997). Likewise, there is a need for further investigation focusing on the role of gender in the relevant developmental pathways. Although previous investigators have reported differences in the determinants of popularity for boys and girls (Cillessen & Mayeux, 2004), research on the outcomes associated with popularity has not produced any evidence that gender serves a moderating role (Mayeux & Sandstrom, 2005; Prinstein et al., 2003). Likewise, our exploratory analyses did not provide any indication that the link between popularity and academic disengagement differs for boys and girls. Despite these results, we hesitate to draw conclusions because the detection of three-way interactions (i.e., Aggression Popularity Gender) would be difficult in the context of a naturalistic design (McClelland & Judd, 1993). A clearer pattern of findings also might have emerged if we had assessed relational aggression or other gender-specific behaviors (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). In summary, our results demonstrate that popularity is associated with risk for adolescents who are highly aggressive. 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