Leadership and influence among third through fifth grade students
Whipple, Brittany D
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The primary aim of this two-study dissertation was to investigate leadership and influence among children’s peer groups in middle childhood, specifically, through examination of the role of a group-level, process-derived construct of prototypicality in predicting leaders and influential children. The Social Identity Theory of Leadership (SIToL; Hogg, 2001) posits that leaders emerge through a process in which group members’ determine which individuals are most prototypical of the group and subsequently follow their actions as they are considered congruent with group norms. However, as the construct of prototypicality has primarily been explored empirically with adults (e.g., Rast, Gaffney, Hogg, & Crisp, 2012), these two studies aimed to bridge the gap between adult and child as well as sociological and developmental literature by exploring the tenets of the SIToL within naturally-occurring children’s groups. Study one was conducted using data from 576 fourth- and fifth-grade student participants within five elementary schools in the southeastern United States. This study analyzed how children at varying levels of status (i.e., sociometric status, perceived popularity, network centrality) compared on a peer-nominated measure of leadership and one of prototypicality. Further, the study assessed whether prototypicality significantly predicted which children would be nominated as leaders by peers after accounting for individual’s status level. Results from this study indicated that children in higher status groups were significantly more likely to be seen as leaders and, supportive of theory, that prototypicality scores positively predicted leadership scores after accounting for the status level of the children. Interestingly, prototypicality was found to be particularly important for determining which children with high levels of perceived popularity would be perceived by peers in a leadership role. The second study investigated the relationships between teacher ratings of children’s personality characteristics (i.e., Extraversion, Agreeableness, Intellect/Conscientiousness), peer-rated prototypicality scores, and peer-rated nominations of leadership and influence both generally and within specific domains. Results generally supported a trait-level model of leadership but also showed that prototypicality significantly predicted leadership and influence nominations above and beyond variance explained by scores on the three personality factors. Unexpectedly, prototypicality was positively associated with leadership but negatively associated with general influence, indicating variable conceptualizations of these two constructs by children. Additionally, while prototypicality was positively predictive of influence in academics, sports, and trends, higher prototypicality was inversely related to influencing misbehavior. Together, findings from the two studies expand the literature on leadership and influence within children’s groups by demonstrating the importance of considering group-level processes when determining which children will likely emerge as leaders or become influential among peers.