acta ethologica

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 101–113 | Cite as

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

  • António J. Santos
  • Brian E. Vaughn
  • Kelly K. Bost
Original Paper


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.


Peer relations Affiliative structure Stratification 



Data collection, analyses, and preparation of this report have been supported in part by a Head Start/University Partnership grant (ACYF-90-CD-0956), by NSF grants SBR 95-14563, BCS 99-83391, BCS 01-26163, and by FCT grant PTDC/PSI/66172/2006. We are grateful also to the Directors, Teachers, and children attending the Head Start programs from which participants were recruited for their patience and support. Correspondence should be directed to António J. Santos, Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada, Rua Jardim do Tabaco 34, 1149-041 Lisboa, Portugal.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag and ISPA 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • António J. Santos
    • 1
  • Brian E. Vaughn
    • 2
  • Kelly K. Bost
    • 3
  1. 1.Unidade de Investigação em Psicologia Cognitiva do Desenvolvimento e da EducaçãoInstituto Superior de Psicologia AplicadaLisboaPortugal
  2. 2.Department of Human Development and Family StudiesAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA
  3. 3.Department of Human and Community DevelopmentUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA

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