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Br J Educ Psychol. 1996 Dec;66 ( Pt 4):431-45.

Peer relations, loneliness, and self-perceptions in school-aged children.

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  • 1Department of Education, University of Trondheim, Dragvoll, Norway.


Recent studies have suggested that certain behavioural characteristics in children are closely associated with peer acceptance, and that children who are not accepted by peers are more lonely than other children. The present research examines a more comprehensive pattern of relationships. In addition to behavioural characteristics, peer acceptance, and feelings of loneliness and social dissatisfaction, the study includes self-perceptions of social competence, self-esteem, and goal orientation (defensive ego-involvement). A theoretical model is presented to analyse predictive relations. The model was tested on a sample of 8th grade children (N = 96). Teacher and peer assessments of behavioural characteristics (humour, externalising, internalising and prosocial behaviour) were applied. In general, results were consistent with the proposed model. Loneliness was predicted by behavioural characteristics and low peer acceptance, and strong negative paths were found from loneliness to self-esteem and perceived social competence. Self-perceptions were not predicted by peer acceptance, and few direct paths were found from behavioural characteristics to self-perceptions. Thus loneliness has a mediating position between behaviour and peer acceptance on the one hand and self-perceptions on the other hand. This indicates that children's self-perceptions are affected by their socio-emotional reactions to peer difficulties and not directly by low peer acceptance. Strong negative paths were found from self-esteem and perceived social competence to defensive ego-involvement, which suggests that negative self-perceptions may have adverse consequences for children's goal orientations. Practical implications of the findings are discussed.

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