Involvement in successful friendships has been associated with overall positive adjustment (see Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 2006
for review). Not all youth, however, are able to form and maintain these healthy relationships. Socially withdrawn youth, defined as those who consistently display anxious solitary behaviors when among peers (Rubin, Coplan, & Bowker, 2009
), may be at particular risk for friendship difficulties. They frequently lack the social skills and cognitions that underlie friendship relationships (e.g., Hodges, Malone, & Perry, 1997
), perhaps due to their restricted peer interactions (e.g., Rubin & Krasnor, 1986
; Schneider, 2009
). In this study, we focus on a subset of socially withdrawn preadolescents who show anxious withdrawal in the presence of familiar peers. We examined the friendship-related cognitions of these anxiously withdrawn youth in an attempt to explain their friendship successes and difficulties.
suggested that adolescents’ understanding of friendship issues (e.g., formation, closeness/intimacy) could be categorized into one of five invariant developmental stages, which reflect increasingly complex perspective taking skills and coordination of multiple viewpoints. Adolescents with clinically diagnosed aggressive or emotional difficulties show less mature friendship understanding than do nonclinical youth (e.g., Gurucharri, Phelps, & Selman, 1984
). Withdrawn youth, who also exhibit peer difficulties (e.g., Ladd, 2006
), may show similarly immature friendship understanding. Indeed, some researchers have found negative relations between social withdrawal and friendship understanding (e.g. Hart, Keller, Edelstein, & Hoffmann, 1998
; Schneider & Tessier, 2007
); others, however, have failed to find such a connection (Cohen, Kershner, & Wherspann, 1985
There are several potential reasons for this inconsistency. First, findings may vary with specific friendship issues. Although socially withdrawn youth are as likely to have and maintain a mutual best friendship as are their more socially competent peers (Rubin, Wojslawowicz, Rose-Krasnor, Booth-LaForce, & Burgess, 2006
; Schneider 1999
), their friendships tend to be of lesser quality (Fordham & Stevenson-Hinde, 1999
; Rubin, Wojslawowicz et al., 2006
). Thus, we hypothesized that anxiously withdrawn preadolescents would not differ from their typical age mates in their understanding of friendship formation
, but would show lower levels of friendship understanding for closeness, trust, conflict resolution, and friendship termination
issues. Second, researchers have failed to differentiate between youth with and without friends, introducing a potential confound. Therefore, we focused on a sample of anxiously withdrawn and typical preadolescents for whom a mutually best friend could be identified. Finally, methods used to identify socially withdrawn samples have been inconsistent (e.g. Cohen et al., 1985
; Pellegrini, 1986
). Often researchers have failed to distinguish between active isolation by
peers and withdrawal from
the peer group due to social anxiety and negative self-regard, obscuring important conceptual and empirical differences between excluded and withdrawn youth (see Rubin et al, 2009
). Therefore, it is unclear in previous studies whether it was anxious-withdrawn behavior or peer isolation that was associated with friendship understanding. We addressed this issue by conceptualizing and assessing anxious withdrawal independently of peer rejection.
In summary, our goal was to examine differences in friendship understanding between anxiously withdrawn preadolescents and their more typical classmates. We addressed notable gaps in the literature by focusing on specific friendship issues, assessing social withdrawal independently from peer rejection, and including only preadolescents who had mutual best friends.