Specifying social structures in preschool classrooms: Descriptive and functional distinctions between affiliative subgroups

António J. Santos, Brian E. Vaughn, Kelly K. Bost

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Preschool children attending Head Start programs (N=586, 296 boys and 290 girls, between 3 and 5 years of age, over 95% African-American) were observed to determine physical proximity to peers as well as rates of visual attention given and received. Sociometric data were used to derive peer acceptance scores, peer friendships, and sociometric status classifications. Three subgroup types (high mutual proximity (HMP), lower mutual proximity (LMP), and ungrouped children) were identified through complete linkage hierarchical clustering and chi-square procedures from the proximity data. HMP subgroups tended to be larger, to have higher sociometric acceptance scores, and children in these subgroups had more reciprocated friendships than was true for the other subgroup types. Significant within-group preferences and out-group biases were observed for both HMP and LMP subgroups using measures of visual attention and sociometric choice data, but these were more marked for HMP subgroups. Results are consistent with previous ethological studies of affiliative structures in preschool classrooms and also show that methods of data collection and analysis from social ethology and child psychology research traditions are mutually informing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-113
Number of pages13
JournalActa Ethologica
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 1 2008



  • Affiliative structure
  • Peer relations
  • Stratification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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