Sociometric Status Definition
Sociometric status refers to how much a child is liked and noticed by peers. It reflects a broader categorization of peer acceptance than simple friendships. Sociometric categories include popular, rejected, neglected, controversial, and average children. Sociometric status is important because peer relations play a significant role in the social and emotional development of children.
Sociometric Status Evaluation
Sociometric status is evaluated by asking children to nominate the peers whom they most like and dislike, rate each peer on a scale ranging from like very much to dislike very much, or indicate their preferred playmates from among different pairs of children. Teachers, parents, and researchers also can provide their observations. Researchers use these positive and negative nominations to categorize each child’s sociometric status.
Popular children receive many positive and few negative nominations. They are well liked by others. Popular children are cooperative, sociable, friendly, and sensitive to others. Although they are assertive and capable of using aggression, they exhibit few disruptive and negative behaviors. Instead, they appear to use their social skills to get what they want without resorting to aggression. Popular children also tend to show high levels of academic and intellectual abilities. Children, teachers, and parents generally agree which children are popular. Overall, popular children are skilled in initiating and maintaining positive social interactions and relationships.
Rejected children receive many negative and few positive nominations. They are actively disliked. Rejected children exhibit fewer positive social skills and traits than do children in the other groups, and they show weaker academic and intellectual abilities. Recent research indicates two types of children who are rejected: Children who display disruptive and aggressive behavior, and children who are socially anxious and withdrawn.
Children in the rejected-aggressive group display high levels of hostile and threatening behavior, physical aggression such as pushing and fighting, and disruptive behavior such as breaking rules. They also may display a hostile attribution bias or a tendency to assume that other children have hostile intentions in ambiguous situations. For example, if one child drops an art project and a second child steps on it before it can be retrieved, the scenario is ambiguous; it is unclear whether the second child stepped on it on purpose or by accident. Although nonrejected children recognize the ambiguity, rejected-aggressive children may assume that the negative act was purposeful, subsequently responding with aggressive retaliation. This aggressive retaliation is perceived as unwarranted by those who recognized the situational ambiguity, which feeds into the cycle of peer rejection.
Other children may be rejected because they display socially anxious behavior. These children are not overly aggressive. Rather, they are timid and wary in social situations, leading to uncomfortable, awkward interactions. Peers may find it difficult to predict how these children will act and may be less willing to approach them. Socially anxious children may then withdraw from future social situations. Rejected-withdrawn children appear to lack the social skills that make smooth interactions with peers possible.
Neglected children receive few positive and few negative nominations. They engage in few disruptive and aggressive behaviors, and they show less sociability than their peers. However, research indicates that neglected children are not at great risk for negative outcomes. Indeed, in more structured activities, these children show more sociability. Otherwise, they may prefer solitary activities, ultimately contributing to their neglected status. Neglected children are not disliked. They simply are not noticed.
Controversial children receive both positive and negative nominations. They are well liked by some children but actively disliked by others. These children engage in as much aggressive behavior as rejected-aggressive children. However, they compensate for their aggression with positive social behaviors. Similar to popular children, they tend to have high levels of academic and intellectual abilities. Their positive behaviors and attributes offset their higher levels of aggression. Ratings by children, teachers, and parents are less consistent regarding controversial children, perhaps because controversial children curb their aggressive displays when adults are present. Although controversial children engage in aggressive behavior, they are also cooperative and sociable.
Average children receive an average number of positive and negative nominations. They do not fit into one of the more extreme categories. Most children fit into this category. They are more sociable than rejected and neglected children but not as sociable as popular and controversial children.
Sociometric Status Stability and Implications
Over short periods, such as a few weeks or months, ratings for popular and rejected children remain fairly stable. Children in the neglected and controversial categories may fluctuate as school activities change and social skills develop. Over longer periods, stability ratings for rejected children are higher than for the other groups. In other words, children who are popular, neglected, or controversial when they are young may or may not hold that status several years later. However, children who are actively rejected at a young age still tend to be rejected several years later. Without intervention, they do not acquire the social skills they need to experience peer acceptance.
Rejected children, especially rejected-aggressive children, are at high risk for negative outcomes such as delinquency, hyperactivity, attention deficit hyper-activity disorder, conduct problems, and substance abuse. In addition, they are at higher risk than are the other groups for feelings of loneliness, depression, and for obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, these children can benefit from interventions. Parents and teachers who coach children on how to deal with conflict and difficult social situations, how to meet and interact with unfamiliar peers, and who also model and reinforce socially competent behavior can assist children in developing their social skills. Ultimately, children who learn about appropriate social behaviors, how to implement them, and how to interpret social feedback from others should become more socially competent and experience better peer relations.
- Newcomb, A. F., Bukowski, W. M., & Pattee, L. (1993). Children’s peer relations: A meta-analytic review of popular, rejected, neglected, controversial, and average sociometric status. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 99-128.