In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Friends and Peers: Psychological Perspectives

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Textbooks
  • History
  • Sociometrics and Peer Rejection
  • Direct Observations of Children’s Interactions with Their Peers
  • Crowds, Informal Groups, and Cliques
  • Cultural Differences
  • Peer Relationships across the Boundaries of Culture and Ethnicity
  • Family Influences on Peer Relations
  • Sex Differences
  • Electronic Communication and Peer Relationships
  • Peer Relations of Children with Psychological Problems
  • Interventions to Promote Peer Relations

Childhood Studies Friends and Peers: Psychological Perspectives
Barry Schneider
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0040


In the first years of the formal study of psychology, from the late 19th century through the 1930s, relatively little interest was shown in interpersonal relationships except those pertaining to the interactions of parents and children. The social and political climate of the years before World War II resulted in professional interest in the topics of leadership and intergroup conflict. Seminal theorists, especially Jacob Moreno, emphasized the exploration of these topics at the small-group level, where, they believed, leadership was cultivated and intergroup conflict began. The study of the social relationships of individuals in their social groups was a major feature of social psychology from the 1930s through the 1950s. In the decades that followed, the racial desegregation of US schools and the inclusion of pupils with disabilities in regular classes and schools spurred ongoing interest in the social reputations of children and adolescents, focusing on these individual characteristics. As mental-health professionals and policymakers became increasingly concerned with prevention as well as treatment, developmental and clinical psychologists became interested in the social relationships of individuals in their groups as a possible early predictor of psychopathology. Within this context, research focused not only on social reputations, but also on interpersonal behaviors, especially overt, physical aggression, that might be forerunners of psychopathology. Over time, the search for early predictors of mental illness was extended to include the study of social withdrawal and shyness as possible correlates of depression and anxiety. As well, exclusive attention to physical aggression gave way to a more gender-neutral perspective with increased research on covert, verbal, relational forms of aggression that are common among girls and women. Research on social reputation has been joined, especially in the past twenty years, with research on peer relationships at the dyadic level, that is, in relationships between close friends. The redoubled emphasis on friendship has reconciled peer-relations research with the growing interest in the psychology of well-being. Complementing both friendship research and research on reputational processes in recent years is the study of the small groups, crowds, or cliques formed by children and adolescents.

General Overviews

Many general overviews of this field have appeared as chapters in major handbooks of developmental psychology and child psychopathology. However, several single-authored volumes and a few edited books are devoted entirely to the area of children’s peer relations, offering in-depth perspectives on various aspects of peer relations. A number of influential extended chapters on the subject are also available. Howe 2010 provides excellent treatment of the role of peer groups in general, with specific strength in their role during the early childhood years. Rubin, et al. 2006 is the most detailed and best documented overview. More focused overviews are provided by Rubin, et al. 2011 and Rubin, et al. 2013. Rubin, et al. 2011 includes a focus on the ways in which peer influences become more potent with advancing age and development. Rubin, et al. 2013 is very useful in squaring peer relationships within major theories of human development whereas Parker, et al. 2006 emphasizes the links between peer-relationship and mental-health problems.

  • Howe, Christine. Peer Groups and Children’s Development. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    This well-written volume focuses primarily on school-age children although there is some material on adolescents. The book contains authoritative material on the implications of peer relations for psychological adjustment. The book complements several of the other major review chapters by focusing on the cliques or crowds that emerge spontaneously in children’s groups, although friendship and large-group acceptance/rejection are mentioned.

  • Parker, Jeffrey, Kenneth H. Rubin, Stephen Erath, Julie C. Wojslawowicz, and Allison A. Buskirk. “Peer Relationships and Developmental Psychopathology.” In Developmental Psychopathology. Vol. 2, Risk, Disorder, and Adaptation. 2d ed. Edited by Dante Cicchetti and Donald Cohen, 419–493. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.

    This very complete and authoritative chapter provides focuses on the implications of impaired peer relations for psychopathology. Included are thorough reviews of relevant theories and the most important longitudinal studies.

  • Rubin, K. H., J. C. Bowker, K. McDonald, and M. Menzer. “Peer Relationships.” In Oxford Handbook of Developmental Psychology. Edited by Philip Zelazo. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    A good overview, especially strong in contextualizing peer relations in the context of the major theories of development.

  • Rubin, Kenneth H., William Bukowski, and Jeffrey Parker. “Peer Interactions, Relationships, and Groups.” In Handbook of Child Psychology. Vol. 3, Social, Emotional, and Personality Development. 6th ed. Edited by Nancy Eisenberg, 571–645. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.

    Probably the most complete and authoritative general overview available. Its major strengths include its focus on the processes of child development, in which the emergence of peer relations is conceptualized very well.

  • Rubin, Kenneth H., Robert Coplan, Xinyin Chen, Julie C. Bowker, and Kristina McDonald. “Peer Relationships in Childhood.” In Developmental Science: An Advanced Textbook. Edited by Marc H. Bornstein and Michael E. Lamb, 517–519. New York: Psychology Press, 2011.

    Less encyclopedic than Rubin, et al. 2006, this chapter emphasizes a lifespan perspective. It illustrates the ways in which the roles of peers increase with the course of development. In adolescence and adulthood, peers become models that young people imitate. Peers enforce group norms and engage young people in close relationships, whose maintenance requires the individual to learn how to communicate and negotiate.

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