Differential Expression of Social Dominance as a Function of Age and Maltreatment Experience

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Recent perspectives on social dominance in normative populations have suggested a developmental progression from using primarily coercive strategies to incorporation of more socially competent strategies to attain material and social resources. Parental influences on the resource control strategies children use have been proposed but not investigated empirically. The present study examined age- and gender-related differences in dominance strategies in 470 children from high-risk neighborhoods who were between 6 and 13 years of age, approximately half of whom had experienced maltreatment. A Q-sort measure of social dominance was developed and received preliminary support. Consistent with predictions from resource control theory, age-related differences in dominance-related behavior were demonstrated in both nonmaltreated and maltreated children. Maltreated children were more likely than nonmaltreated children to be identified as dominant bullies at any age. Dominance and bullying were not more likely to be associated for children who had experienced physical and sexual abuse relative to those who were neglected or emotionally maltreated. Results are discussed in terms of the influence of maltreatment on the social development of children, and intervention approaches for limiting these deleterious effects are recommended.

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