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The stabilizing role of aggressive children in affiliative social networks among preschoolers

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In general, aggression is believed to destabilize social integration. The question of who plays a central role in stabilizing and facilitating social integration is important in studies of conflict management and resolution. We investigated that question by applying social network analysis to behavioral data of preschool children (3- and 4-year-olds) in four classes. We identified two kinds of social network structures in each class: 'affiliative network structure' (ANS) consisting of socially positive behavior (affiliation and prosocial behavior) and 'disruptive network structure' (DNS) consisting of socially negative behavior (aggressive or disruptive behavior). Next, we tested how the exclusion of each child, having different degrees of centrality within the ANS or DNS, influenced the 'density', or cohesiveness, of the DNS or ANS among the same children. We found that excluding the children with higher centrality in the ANS did not affect the density of the DNS. In contrast, excluding the children with higher centrality in the DNS reduced the density of the ANS to a greater extent. This suggests that aggressive children play not only a dispersive role but also a cohesive role in their networks. This counterintuitive result highlights the adaptive and dual roles of aggressive children in their social groups.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Humanities & Social Science, Faculty of Letters, Keio University, Mita 2-15-45, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-8345, Japan; 2: Department of Evolutionary Studies of Biosystems, The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, Kanagawa, Japan; 3: Department of Cognitive and Behavioral Science, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan


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