The Effects of Noise and Aggressive Cues on Preschoolers' Encoding and Interpretation of Social Information
Modracek, Krista A.
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The Problem: These studies examined preschool-age boys' social information processing in situations of arousal. It was hypothesized that, under conditions designed to increase arousal, boys would respond more aggressively than those in neutral conditions. Procedure: A total of 60 four year old boys participated in each of two studies. In both studies, boys in the experimental condition were exposed to 80 dB of white noise and were shown posters depicting aggressive acts, whereas boys in the control condition experienced normal noise levels and were shown neutral posters. Each boy was asked how a boy puppet should respond in six enacted conflict situations. These responses were rated for level of aggression. Next, each boy participated in two stereotyping tasks assessing his tolerance for chlldren pictured with gender consistent, neutral, or inconsistent toys. Heart rate was measured as a manipulation check and each boy's aggressive behavior was measured in a free-play situation. In experiment one, the hypothetical conflict situations were hostile in their intent as compared to the ambiguous situations enacted in experiment two. Findings: Analyses of variance indicated that boys in the arousal condition responded with significantly more aggression than did boys in the control condition. No significant differences were found between conditions in the boys' tolerance for children shown pictured with gender inconsistent toys. There were no significant differences in heart rate between the arousal and control conditions, therefore differences in aggression between groups cannot be directly attributed to physiological arousal caused by the white noise. In the first experiment, there were considerable discrepancies between raters in evaluating aggressive playground behaviors, making it difficult to determine whether there was a correlation between responses in the puppet task and subjects' behavior in a natural setting. The interrater reliability for the playground observations in the second experiment was acceptable, but weakly correlated with aggression ratings in the puppet task. Conclusion: Heightened aggression in the arousal condition may be due to boys' tendency to attribute hostility to their peers when their social information processing is biased during the encoding and interpretation stages of conflict situations (Dodge & Crick, 1994). Recommendations: The fact that noise and aggressive cues elicited more aggressive responses in both hostile and ambiguous situations suggests that the procedures applied in this research might provide a safe and ethical way to study young children's physical aggression. Further research is needed to separate the effects of noise and aggressive cues in eliciting aggressive responses and to understand how girls process social information in conditions of arousal.
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