Drawing by Krista-Louise, presented at Kaleidoscope Children's Theatre, Rhode Island in 2010: image via kaleidoscopechildrenstheatre.com Kids with any trait that's not the norm often get teased or mocked by other children. It's an unfortunate fact of life. But a new study conducted by psychologists at Kansas State University had some surprising results regarding which children are most likely to be chided by their peers.
The group of doctorate students in psychology, headed by their professor, Mark Barnett, looked specifically at the role of 'fault attribution' in peer evaluation and drew up descriptions of six males: a poor student, poor athlete, an extremely overweight child, extremely aggressive child, extremely shy child, and a child with symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity
They created statements supposedly made by the six peers during an interview, in which each child described his 'problem' and
if he desired to fix it. A second group of statements were also
contrived as a follow up to the first set, here the students supposedly reporting on their progress six months later.
The psychologists shared the statements with 137 test subjects from third through eighth grade, asking them tor rate various feelings toward the each of the six peers on a 5-point scale. Results revealed a strong pattern in their feelings toward each peer, largely based on two factors: blame and effort.
The children were more likely to make fun of the overweight and aggressive peers and those who did not make the effort to correct their deficiencies.
"Attributions of fault seem to be very important in childrens' attitudes and
anticipated reactions to peers with undesirable characteristics," Barnett said.
"The more they attribute fault to peers for being a poor student, a poor athlete
or whatever, the more they dislike them and the more they anticipate responding
to them in a negative manner."
"If the students think that the child has
tried to change, that tends to positively influence how they anticipate
interacting with that peer," Barnett said. "They really liked kids who are
successful in overcoming their problem, but they also really liked kids who
tried and put effort into changing."
Though the girls were generally kinder than the boy subjects in this study, they were not kinder when it came to their reactions to overweight and agressiveness. Both the boys and girls considered peers with these characteristics to be at fault.