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As children mature into adolescents, friendship groups play an increasingly important role in their lives (Berndt & Perry, 1990; Buhrmester & Furman, 1987; Sullivan, 1953). Close friendships can enhance an adolescent's self-worth and interpersonal skills as well as provide role models for positive adjustment or behavior problems (Berndt & Keefe, 1995). Friendships develop in many contexts, but school-based friendship groups may be of particular importance because children spend such a large part of their days with other students. Furthermore, friendships in school influence students' academic performance and school behaviors (e.g., Cairns & Cairns, 1994; Damico, 1975).
Research has typically focused on either friendship dyads or individuals' networks of friends, but students can also participate in other types of friendship groups. They can belong to cliques, which are exclusive, tightly knit groups, or to more loosely associated networks, often referred to as loose groups or liaisons (Shrum & Cheek, 1987; Urberg, Degirmencioglu, Tolson, & Halliday-Sher, 1995). Students who do not belong to any identifiable friendship group are referred to as isolates. In early adolescence, students tend to engage in friendships, not as stable dyadic pairs, but as members of these larger groups (Shrum & Cheek, 1987; Urberg et al., 1995). Little is known, however, about the characteristics or functions of different types of friendship groups in early adolescence.
Identifying Cliques: Two common approaches used to identify cliques include (a) interviewing students about the social groups that they perceive in their school, and (b) asking students to make friendship nominations, and then mapping social networks based on these nominations. The first approach, exemplified by the social cognitive mapping approach (Cairns & Cairns, 1994), is based on the assumption that students themselves have accurate cognitive "maps" of the social groups around them. Cairns and colleagues ask students in a class to identify who "hangs around" with whom, and a matrix is constructed to identify clique members (Cairns & Cairns, 1994). In the friendship nomination technique, students are asked to list, and sometimes rank, their friends in school. Researchers then identify groups of reciprocated friendships. Using peer-friend nominations, researchers have proposed a variety of definitions of cliques. For example, cliques have been described as (a) groups of more than two people all of whom are mutual friends (Hallinan, 1981; Hunter, Vizelberg, & Berenson, 1991; Luce & Perry, 1949; Peay, 1974), (b) groups of three mutually reciprocating friends (Virk, Aggarwal, & Bhan, 1993), (c) groups of at least four people in which each member is a reciprocated friend of at least two other members (Clark & Ayers, 1988; Cohen, 1977), or (d) groups of three or more individuals who have more friendship connections with one another than with other groups (Ennett & Bauman, 1993; Hubbell, 1965; Richards & Rice, 1981; Shrum & Cheek, 1987; Urberg et al., 1995). These definitions, although similar, are not entirely consistent. As a result, the structure of cliques varies from study to study. However, an essential feature of virtually all of the definitions is that cliques are tightly knit groups consisting of multiple, reciprocated friendship nominations among members.
Friendship Groups Versus Isolation: Much of the existing research on friendship groups has compared children who have friends to those who are rejected or isolated from the peer network (Hartup, 1993). Findings indicate that friendships are generally beneficial (Bagwell, Newcomb, & Bukowski, 1998; Berndt, 1996; Clark & Ayers, 1988; Hartup, 1993; McGuire & Weisz, 1982). Recent literature has also begun to document characteristics of clique members and liaisons. Ennett and Bauman (1993) investigated the relation between friendship group membership and tobacco use and found that isolates were the most likely to smoke. Wentzel and Caldwell (1997) found that sixth grade membership in clique-like friendship groups was predictive of student grade point average (GPA) in sixth grade and eighth grade.
Peer Influence and Group Homogeneity: Research also indicates considerable homogeneity in academic performance and problematic behaviors among clique members (Cairns & Cairns, 1994; Cohen, 1977; Damico, 1976; Hunter et al., 1991; Nash, 1973; Urberg, Degirmencioglu, & Pilgrim, 1997). Cliques can exert a great amount of influence, both positive and negative, over their members. For example, clique members have similar levels of academic achievement (Damico, 1975, 1976), engagement in substance use (Hunter et al., 1991; Urberg et al., 1997), and aggression (Cairns, Cairns, Neckerman, Gest, & Gariepy, 1988). These studies suggest that cliques have powerful homogenizing characteristics.
Popular opinion assumes that clique homogeneity is caused by peer influence, but researchers have identified bidirectional forces that influence friendship similarity and peer group homogeneity. These forces are selection--the attraction of people to those who are similar to themselves, and conformity--the power of peer influence (Bauman & Ennett, 1996). Several longitudinal studies have investigated the relative impact of these two forces on friendship homogeneity (Aseltine, 1995; Cohen, 1977; Kandel, 1978). The results of these studies imply that both selection and conformity influence peer group homogeneity, and that it would be erroneous to assume that similarities between clique members are due solely to peer influence.
Friendships, Cliques, and Gender: Cliques are important friendship groupings for early adolescents, but some research indicates that there may be differences in the meaning and functions of these groups for boys and for girls (e.g., Eder, 1985; Fine, 1991). Researchers have noted qualitative differences in the intimacy and functions of boys' and girls' relationships in early adolescence (Buhrmester, 1990). Girls appear more interpersonally competent and concerned with intimacy, disclosure, and exclusivity in their friendships than boys (Berndt, 1982; Berndt & Perry, 1996; Buhrmester & Furman, 1987; Montemayor & Van Komen, 1985). For example, the friendship groupings of preadolescent gifts tend to be dyads or triads, whereas boys typically form larger more loosely knit groups, reflecting an orientation toward autonomy and independence (Karweit & Hansell, 1983). The tendency for girls to form smaller friendship groups may reflect their greater desire for intimacy; researchers have suggested that female cliques are also denser and more exclusive than male cliques (Karweit & Hansell, 1983). Some findings suggest that adolescent girls place greater value on membership in groups and are more likely to belong to cliques than are boys (Karweit & Hansell, 1983; Urberg et al., 1995). However, the characteristics of friendship groups and clique homogeneity for boys and girls have not been studied and are one focus of this research.
Reflection Exercise Explanation
Reflection Exercise #1