Put yourself in grade school again. You're in the schoolyard when another child bumps you from behind. You fall into a puddle. Was the bump intentional? How do you react? Or: you overhear a friend being invited to a birthday party. You haven't been invited. Is this an intentional slight or not?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, cartoons may be worth even more. Working closely with African American inner city schoolgirls, researchers are developing culturally sensitive drawings of problematic social incidents to help measure which children are likely to take offense and react aggressively.
"The girls preferred the cartoons over traditional written descriptions of provocative social situations," said study leader Stephen S. Leff, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "In addition, we found that these cartoon versions were as valid as the conventional written versions in measuring how these 3rd and 4th grade African American girls interpret social situations."
The research appears in the October issue of Child Development. The team worked with the girls at public elementary schools and day camps in low-income sections of Philadelphia.
"Research on aggression among children tends to focus on physical aggression in boys," said Dr. Leff. "We have concentrated here on girls, who may use physical aggression, but are more likely to use relational than physical aggression when expressing their anger toward others." Examples of relational aggression are gossiping, withdrawing friendships and excluding others from social groups. Previous studies by Dr. Leff's group, such as analyses of playground behavior, have attracted broad interest among experts working in school-based aggression prevention programs.
Child psychology researchers traditionally use written descriptions of provocative but ambiguous situations, such as apparent
Contact: Gina Marchiondo
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia