Korean and American children's evaluations about peer relationships: Friendship, exclusion, and victimization

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Korean (N = 398) and U. S. (N = 333) children from 5th and 8th grades were surveyed to investigate how different types of peer rejection (friendship rejection, group exclusion, and peer victimization), and how individualistic (aggression, shyness) and group characteristics (nationality, gender) of the target children of rejection are evaluated by children and adolescents. Children's reasoning was analyzed using a social-cognitive domain model. Culture, age, and gender of participants were key variables in this study.

 Overall, children and adolescents did not condone the peer rejections, regardless of the gender, grade, and nationality of participants. Victimization elicited the most negative judgments, followed by group exclusion and then friendship. Further, aggression was the most legitimate reason to reject a child, followed by gender of children and then shyness and nationality of children. In victimization contexts, prosocial reasons were predominately used and personal choice reasons were most used in friendship contexts. Children evaluated peer rejection based on group membership traits (gender and nationality) as more unfair than peer rejection based on individual deficit traits (aggression and shyness). Despite the viewpoint that Americans are highly fairness-oriented, Korean participants were more likely to appeal to fairness/discrimination reasoning, while American participants were more likely to appeal to prosocial/empathy and personal choice justifications. 

 When participants believed that the target traits were changeable, they evaluated the rejections as more legitimate and used more group functioning justifications. In addition, when participants experienced more peer rejection, they were more likely to believe that it is wrong to victimize a child, and those who had peer rejection experiences used less stereotypes/group functioning reasoning and more fairness reasoning. The findings contribute to research on peer relationships, moral reasoning, and culture.