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Child Development, xxxx 2017, Volume 00, Number 0, Pages 1–18

Interactive Contributions of Attribution Biases and Emotional Intensity to


Child–Friend Interaction Quality During Preadolescence
Xi Chen and Nancy L. McElwain Jennifer E. Lansford
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Duke University

Using data from a subsample of 913 study children and their friends who participated in the NICHD Study
of Early Child Care and Youth Development, the interactive contributions of child-reported attribution biases
and teacher-reported child emotional intensity (EI) at Grade 4 (M = 9.9 years) to observed child–friend inter-
action at Grade 6 (M = 11.9 years) were examined. Study children’s hostile attribution bias, combined with
high EI, predicted more negative child–friend interaction. In contrast, benign attribution bias, combined with
high EI, predicted more positive child–friend interaction. The findings are discussed in light of the “fuel”
interpretation of EI, in which high-intensity emotions may motivate children to act on their cognitive biases
for better or for worse.

The importance of friendship for adjustment is well rivalry, which are not merely the inverse of positive
established (see Furman & Rose, 2015; Hartup, features (Berndt, 1996), and such negative features
1996). In particular, the transition period from predict preadolescents’ poorer behavioral adjust-
childhood to adolescence, approximately between 9 ment, lower school grades, and greater school dis-
and 13 years of age, is marked by the need for ruption (e.g., Berndt & Keefe, 1995; Burk & Laursen,
interpersonal intimacy with a “chum” or close 2005). Therefore, understanding factors that con-
friend (Sullivan, 1953). During this period, children tribute to both positive and negative features of
spend increasing time with peers (Larson & friendships during the transition from childhood to
Richards, 1991) and regard friends as increasingly adolescence is of theoretical and practical signifi-
important providers of support (Furman & Buhrme- cance.
ster, 1992). Furthermore, friendships characterized To this end, we investigated two intrapersonal
by high levels of intimacy and support predict factors—attribution biases and emotional intensity
more optimal psychological and behavioral adjust- (EI)—that are important for children’s peer relation-
ment (e.g., Waldrip, Malcolm, & Jensen-Campbell, ships generally yet are less well understood as pre-
2008) and buffer against the negative effects of dictors of friendship quality specifically.
stressors, such as victimization (e.g., Hodges, Boi- Furthermore, despite long-standing interest in
vin, Vitaro, & Bukowski, 1999), loneliness (Nangle, understanding the increasing coordination of affec-
Erdley, Newman, Mason, & Carpenter, 2003), and tive and cognitive processes in children’s socioemo-
negative parenting (Lansford, Criss, Pettit, Dodge, tional and moral development (see Calkins & Bell,
& Bates, 2003). Friendships, however, can also have 2010; Malti, 2016), and theoretical work that inte-
negative features such as conflict, dominance, and grates emotion-related processes within a social
information processing framework (Lemerise &
Arsenio, 2000), few studies have examined how
The NICHD Study of Early Child Care was directed by a
Steering Committee and supported by NICHD through a cooper- attribution biases and emotional processes interact
ative agreement (U10) that calls for a scientific collaboration to predict children’s social behavior toward peers
between the grantees and the NICHD staff. We wish to express (for exceptions, see Mathieson et al., 2011; Runions
our appreciation to the principal investigators, site coordinators,
and participants of the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and & Keating, 2010), and no existing study to our
Youth Development. We are also grateful to Dr. Kristen Bub for knowledge has examined such cognition–emotion
her advice on the statistical analyses. Xi Chen was supported by interactions in predicting friendship quality. In
a University of Illinois Graduate College Distinguished Fellow-
ship while working on this manuscript.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
Xi Chen, Department of Human Development and Family Stud- © 2017 The Authors
ies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 904 W. Nevada Child Development © 2017 Society for Research in Child Development, Inc.
Street, Urbana, IL 61801. Electronic mail may be sent to All rights reserved. 0009-3920/2017/xxxx-xxxx
xichen26@illinois.edu. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.13012
2 Chen, McElwain, and Lansford

addressing these gaps, we investigated the extent to child’s interaction quality with specific peer part-
which children’s attribution biases predicted posi- ners, such as friends. When confronted with a
tive and negative child–friend interaction quality friend’s provocation, children who hold a more
over a 2-year period from Grades 4 to 6 and hostile attribution bias may retaliate in outwardly
assessed children’s EI as a moderator of these asso- aggressive ways as they do toward general peers.
ciations. Because children show more affection in Yet, given that friendships are voluntary relation-
their relationships with friends versus nonfriends ships based on mutual enjoyment, cooperation, and
(Newcomb & Bagwell, 1995) and because adoles- self-disclosure, hostile attribution bias may also
cents show marked increases in emotional reactivity operate in more subtle ways. Children may retaliate
to peer-related stimuli (see Somerville, 2013), EI with more nuanced contention, such as rejecting the
may play an especially important role in moderat- friend’s offers, being sarcastic, or withdrawing their
ing the link between attribution biases and child– support from the friend. At the same time, children
friend interaction quality during the transition to who hold a more benign attribution bias may bring
adolescence. these positive expectancies to their friendships and
show more support and prosocial behavior toward
friends. Furthermore, because friendships are
Attribution Biases and Friendship Quality
dynamic, dyadic relationships, a child’s heightened
According to Crick and Dodge (1994), children’s negativity or suppressed positive behavior—rooted,
social behaviors are guided by their social informa- in part, in the child’s tendency toward a hostile
tion processing steps—including encoding and attribution bias—may elicit more negative behavior
interpreting social cues, clarifying goals, and identi- from his or her friend and, therefore, generate more
fying, selecting, and enacting behavioral responses negative and less positive child–friend exchanges.
—that occur rapidly and often outside of conscious Of the few studies to investigate children’s attri-
awareness. Interpretation of social cues, in particu- bution biases as a predictor of friendship outcomes,
lar, has been examined in relation to children’s gen- findings have been consistent with the above propo-
eral peer functioning. It is well established, for sitions. Young adolescents who tended to attribute
instance, that children and adolescents who inter- negative intent toward unspecified peers, as measured
pret a peer’s ambiguous provocation as intention- via hypothetical vignettes, reported more conflict
ally harmful (e.g., “He meant to break it.”) are with best friends (Bowker, Spencer, & Salvy, 2010;
more aggressive and more likely to be rejected by Spencer, Bowker, Rubin, Booth-LaForce, & Laursen,
their peers (e.g., Crick, Grotpeter, & Bigbee, 2002; 2013). Similarly, preadolescents’ more hostile attribu-
Dodge & Coie, 1987; Orobio de Castro, Veerman, tions toward best friends concurrently predicted more
Koops, Bosch, & Monshouwer, 2002; Runions & self-reported conflict in those friendships (Spencer
Keating, 2007). Paralleling this link between a hos- et al., 2013) and lower levels of self-reported positive
tile attribution bias and aggressive behavior, pread- friendship characteristics (but for girls only; Dwyer
olescent children who interpret ambiguous peer et al., 2010). These past studies, however, were lim-
provocations as benign (e.g., “It was an accident.”) ited by cross-sectional designs and measurement of
exhibit higher levels of prosocial behavior toward both attribution biases and friendship quality using
peers (Laible, McGinley, Carlo, Augustine, & self-report instruments. We addressed these
Murphy, 2014). limitations in the current study by employing a lon-
Less is known about the extent to which preado- gitudinal design and observational measures of
lescents’ attribution biases predict the quality of child–friend interaction.
their interactions with friends specifically. Not sur-
prisingly, children make fewer hostile attributions
EI as a Moderator
(Peets, Hodges, Kikas, & Salmivalli, 2007) and more
prosocial attributions (Burgess, Wojslawowicz, EI reflects the intensive characteristic of tempera-
Rubin, Rose-Krasnor, & Booth-LaForce, 2006) mental reactivity to emotion-provoking events
toward friends than toward neutral or unspecified (Rothbart & Derryberry, 1981; Thomas, Chess, &
peers. Nonetheless, because children’s attribution Birch, 1970), as well as the dimension of “arousal”
biases toward a specific peer are related to their in Russell’s (2009) framework of core affect, which
attribution biases toward peers in general (Hub- is orthogonal to the dimension of “valence.” Nota-
bard, Dodge, Cillessen, Coie, & Schwartz, 2001), it bly, EI generalizes across specific valence or con-
is likely that children’s general tendency toward tent, such that individuals who experience positive
hostile (or benign) attributions will forecast the emotions intensely also tend to experience negative
Attribution Biases and Emotional Intensity 3

emotions intensely (Diener, Larsen, Levine, & nonaggressive children, aggressive children do not
Emmons, 1985; Rydell, Berlin, & Bohlin, 2003). Gen- only exhibit more hostile attributions but also
eral EI as a relatively stable trait is associated with report higher anger/distress to hypothetical provo-
feelings of arousal and daily mood variability, and cations by peers (e.g., Burgess et al., 2006; Crick,
has been linked to distinct cognitions when process- 1995). In addition, highly aggressive boys typically
ing emotion-provoking stimuli among adults (see explain their aggressive responses to provocation
Larsen & Diener, 1987). In middle childhood, vignettes as driven by rage (Orobio de Castro, Ver-
greater general EI reported by parents and teachers hulp, & Runions, 2012). Notably, hostile attributions
was associated with children’s lower scores on and other aggressogenic thoughts were positively
socially competent behaviors at school (Eisenberg associated with aggressive behaviors but only for
et al., 1995, 1997). children and young adolescents who exhibited high
Although prior research indicates that EI has dispositional anger (Roos, Hodges, Peets, & Salmi-
direct implications for social functioning, EI may valli, 2016; Runions & Keating, 2010). Likewise,
also moderate associations between attribution girls’ hostile attribution bias was associated with
biases and peer outcomes. Theoretical frameworks greater relational aggression, but only when self-
suggest two alternate views. First, Lemerise and reported emotional distress to relational provoca-
Arsenio (2000) proposed that intense emotions may tions was also high (Mathieson et al., 2011). These
disrupt the online processing of social information findings can be explained by both the “disruptor”
at each step, from failing to assess the situation and “fuel” interpretations. Experiencing intense
from multiple perspectives to enacting responses anger or distress may strengthen the link between
that are inappropriate to the situational cues. hostile attributions and aggression by “disrupting”
According to this “disruptor” view of emotions, social information processing or by “motivating”
children who hold a more hostile attribution bias children and adolescents to act on their aggression-
may be especially prone to engage in negative related cognitions.
interactions with friends when those children are To tease apart these alternate interpretations, it is
also characterized by high EI. necessary to (a) assess EI at a more global level so
A second, alternate view is based on functional- that it is not confounded with negative valence and
ist theories of emotion that emphasize emotions as (b) examine whether high EI combined with a more
critical to motivating goal-directed behavior (Magai benign attribution bias predicts positive peer out-
& McFadden, 1995; Saarni, Mumme, & Campos, comes. Importantly, no prior study to our knowl-
1998). Consistent with this viewpoint, dynamic edge has examined how EI interacts with
coactions of emotion and cognition generate and attribution biases to predict the quality of children’s
organize individuals’ behaviors during social inter- interactions with friends specifically. Given that chil-
actions (Mascolo & Fischer, 2015). Specifically, indi- dren have more positive and intimate exchanges
viduals continually appraise how well their with friends than with general peers (see Newcomb
concerns are met and attribute why concern-pro- & Bagwell, 1995), the positive moderating effects of
moting or violating events occur. Individuals’ EI, as suggested by the “fuel” interpretation, may
appraisals and attributions shape their emotional have more opportunities to manifest in friendships.
experiences (Scherer, Schorr, & Johnstone, 2001),
and emotional arousal induces action readiness and
The Current Study
motivates responses to promote individuals’ con-
cerns (Frijda, 1986). Therefore, intense emotions Using data from 913 focal children (referred to as
may not be disruptive per se but may function as “study children”) who participated in the NICHD
“fuel” that facilitates individuals to behave in ways Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development
consistent with their appraisals and attributions. (SECCYD), we addressed two objectives. First, we
High EI may motivate children who hold a more examined the extent to which study children’s self-
hostile attribution bias to engage in more negative reported attribution biases at Grade 4 predicted the
exchanges but may motivate children who hold a quality of observed interaction between the study
more benign attribution bias to engage in more pos- children and a designated friend at Grade 6, above
itive exchanges with friends. and beyond child–friend interaction quality observed
Several studies indicate that the combination of at Grade 4. Second, we assessed study children’s EI
intense negative emotions and hostile attribution as reported by teachers at Grade 4 as a moderator of
bias may play a role in children’s and adolescents’ the associations between study children’s attribution
generation of aggressive behaviors. Compared with biases and child–friend interaction quality. Based on
4 Chen, McElwain, and Lansford

prior theoretical (e.g., Frijda, 1986; Lemerise & Arse- and negative EI play similar roles in children’s
nio, 2000; Mascolo & Fischer, 2015) and empirical social functioning (Eggum et al., 2012; Murphy &
(e.g., Burgess et al., 2006; Laible et al., 2014; Orobio Eisenberg, 1997). We explored whether findings
de Castro et al., 2002; Runions & Keating, 2010) from our main model, which examined general EI,
work, we hypothesized that (a) study children’s were consistent when positive and negative EI were
more hostile versus benign attribution bias would tested as distinct predictors.
be associated with higher levels of negative child–
friend interaction and lower levels of positive
child–friend interaction, and (b) EI would moder- Method
ate these associations, such that they would be
Participants
stronger among study children who had higher
levels of EI. Participants were a subsample of 913 study chil-
In addition, we sought to test the “disruptor” dren drawn from the full sample of 1,364 children
(e.g., Lemerise & Arsenio, 2000) versus “fuel” (e.g., participating in the NICHD SECCYD. Study chil-
Frijda, 1986) interpretations to better characterize dren were recruited from hospitals at 10 sites across
interactions between attribution biases and EI on the United States based on several criteria (e.g.,
child–friend interaction quality. We depict hypo- children who were hospitalized for more than
thetical results that would support the “disruptor” 7 days following birth or had obvious disabilities
and “fuel” interpretations in Figure 1. As seen in were excluded; mothers who had a known or
Figures 1a and 1c, the interaction patterns are the acknowledged substance abuse problem were
same for negative child–friend interaction: A more excluded; see NICHD Early Child Care Research
hostile attribution bias combined with high EI pre- Network, 2005 for further details) and followed
dicts more negative child–friend interaction. The from 1 month of age to 15 years of age.
interaction patterns diverge, however, when pre- In this report, we examined data collected when
dicting positive child–friend interaction. In Fig- study children were in Grades 4 and 6 because
ures 1b and 1d, a more hostile attribution bias is observational assessments of child–friend interac-
associated with lower levels of positive interaction tion during middle childhood and early adolescence
only when EI is high, yet the simple slopes at were available only at these two time points.
high versus low EI show different patterns in rela- Although study children’s attribution biases and EI
tion to each other. Evidence for the “disruptor” were also measured at Grades 3 and 5, we only
interpretation (Figure 1b) indicates that a more hos- used the Grade 4 measures to rigorously test attri-
tile attribution bias combined with high EI predicts bution biases and EI as predictors of later friend-
less positive interaction, which suggests that high ship quality controlling for earlier friendship
EI may disrupt positive interaction when children quality measured at the same time point (i.e., Grade
tend to attribute hostile intentions. In contrast, evi- 4).
dence for the “fuel” interpretation (Figure 1d) indi- The 913 study children (49.6% boys) who had
cates that a more benign attribution bias combined complete data on observed interaction with a friend
with high EI predicts more positive interaction, at Grade 6 were included in our subsample. The
which suggests that high EI may promote positive study children averaged 9.9 (SD = 0.30) and 11.9
interaction when children tend to attribute benign (SD = 0.34) years of age at the Grade 4 and Grade
intentions. 6 time points, respectively. Among the study chil-
We also conducted follow-up analyses to assess dren, 77.8% were non-Hispanic White, 11.7% were
the robustness of our main results, including tests Black, 5.8% were Hispanic, and 4.7% were another
of study child gender and friendship status (i.e., ethnicity or more than one ethnicity. Mothers aver-
whether the study child was observed interacting aged 14.46 (SD = 2.40) years of education, as
with the same friend vs. different friends at Grade reported by mothers when study children were
4 and Grade 6) as additional moderators. Further- 1 month of age. The average family income-to-
more, for dyads in which the same friend partici- needs ratio (averaged across data collected at 6, 15,
pated at both time points, we controlled for the 24, 36, and 54 months) was 3.67 (SD = 2.71).
friend’s attribution bias and EI at Grade 4. Finally, At each time point, a friend was identified by
although individuals who experience positive emo- the study child’s mother using several criteria (e.g.,
tions intensely also tend to experience negative the friend was not the study child’s sibling; the
emotions intensely (Diener et al., 1985; Rydell et al., friend was within 2 years of age of the study child;
2003), it is not well understood whether positive and preferably, the friend was the same gender as
Attribution Biases and Emotional Intensity 5

(a) Disruptor" Model for AB EI on Negative Interaction (b) Disruptor" Model for AB EI on Positive Interaction

0.15 0.15

Positive Child-friend Interaction


Negative Child-friend Interaction

Low EI Low EI
0.1 0.1
High EI High EI
0.05 0.05

0 0

-0.05 -0.05

-0.1 -0.1
-0.23 0 0.23 -0.23 0 0.23
Attribution Biases Attribution Biases

(c) Fuel" Model for AB EI on Negative Interaction (d) Fuel" Model for AB EI on Positive Interaction

0.15 0.15
Negative Child-friend Interaction

Positive Child-friend Interaction


Low EI
Low EI
0.1 0.1
High EI High EI
0.05 0.05

0 0

-0.05 -0.05

-0.1 -0.1
-0.23 0 0.23 -0.23 0 0.23
Attribution Biases Attribution Biases

Figure 1. Hypothetical associations in support of the “disruptor” and “fuel” interpretations. Higher scores on attribution biases indicate
a more hostile bias and lower scores on attribution biases indicate a more benign bias. For negative child–friend interaction (a and c),
both interpretations posit more hostile attributions combined with high EI predict more negative child–friend interaction. For positive
child–friend interaction, evidence for the “disruptor” interpretation (b) indicates that more hostile attributions combined with high EI pre-
dict less positive interaction. In contrast, evidence for the “fuel” interpretation (d) indicates that more benign attributions combined with
high EI predict more positive interaction. AB = attribution bias; EI = emotional intensity.

the study child). Once these criteria were met, pref- income, or the Grade 4 measures (i.e., attribution
erence was given to the study child’s closest friend. biases, EI, and child–friend interaction).
According to study children’s report, 77.3% and
74.5% were “best friends” with the identified friend
Procedure Overview
(Grade 4 and Grade 6, respectively), 18.9% and
23.7% were “close friends,” and 3.5% and 1.4% At Grade 4, study children and friends indepen-
were “ordinary friends.” In most cases, the friend dently completed questionnaires to assess attribu-
was the same gender as the study child (94% at tion biases, and teachers completed questionnaires
Grade 4, 92.2% at Grade 6), and we note that when to assess children’s EI. At each time point, child–
we recomputed our main model tests with data friend interaction during a series of interactive tasks
from only same-gender friends, results were consis- in a laboratory setting was videotaped. All video-
tent with the results reported below and in Table 2. tapes were shipped to a central site for coding, and
For 320 study children, the same friend participated coders were blind to participant characteristics and
at both visits. other study results.
Compared with study children excluded from
the current report due to missing data on Grade 6
outcomes (n = 451), study children included were Measures
more likely to be girls, v2(1, N = 1,364) = 4.74,
Attribution Biases
p = .030, and had mothers with higher levels of
education, t(1,361) 4.79, p < .001. No differences, During a Grade 4 laboratory visit, the study
however, emerged on study child ethnicity, family child and friend independently completed a
6 Chen, McElwain, and Lansford

questionnaire designed to assess attribution biases friends). Scores had a possible range from 10 to 50.
(Crick, 1995). Children were presented with provo- In previous studies using similar measures, higher
cation situations, in which the intent of the provo- EI predicted lower social competence in middle
cateur was ambiguous, and were asked to imagine childhood (e.g., Eisenberg et al., 1995).
the provocation had happened to them. Three situa-
tions depict instrumental provocation focusing on
Child–Friend Interaction Quality
acts of potential physical aggression (e.g., your
radio is broken by a peer), and two situations At each time point, the study child and friend
depict relational provocation focusing on potential were observed in a series of interactive sessions in
rejection (e.g., when some students pass by, they a laboratory setting. At Grade 4, child–friend dyads
look at you, chat with each other, and laugh). Chil- participated in four sessions in the following order:
dren answered two forced-choice questions for each (a) free play (10 min); (b) plan a party task
situation. First, children chose one of four reasons (10 min), in which the dyad planned a birthday
for the provocation. Two reasons reflected hostile party for both of them; (c) snack (7 min), in which
intent (e.g., the kid was mad at you), and two rea- the dyad had snacks together (the amount and type
sons reflected benign intent (e.g., it was an acci- of snacks were designed to elicit discussion or
dent). Second, children were asked whether the negotiation); and (d) pick-up sticks game (8 min),
provocateur was trying to be mean (hostile intent) in which the winner received a prize. At Grade 6,
or not (benign intent). For all questions, responses the child–friend dyad participated in seven sessions
indicating hostile intent were coded as 1, and in the following order: (a) snack (7 min; same as
responses indicating benign intent were coded as 0. Grade 4 snack); (b) Jenga game (8 min), in which
We note that, for the purposes of the NICHD SEC- the winner received a prize; (c) pictionary game
CYD, this measure was truncated from its original (7 min), in which the dyad played as a team to
version of 10 situations (five instrumental and five win points; (d) plan a kids-only vacation task
relational; see Crick, 1995) to five situations (three (7 min), in which the dyad planned a vacation
instrumental and two relational), and we computed together; (e) who wants to be a millionaire game
an overall attribution bias score across responses to (8 min), in which the dyad played as a team to
the five situations (10 items; a = .78 for study chil- win points; (f) hand game (5 min), in which the
dren; a = .73 for friends; see Laible et al., 2014 for dyad played the rock, paper, scissors game, and
the same approach). Possible scores ranged from 0 the child who won the most times received a prize;
to 1, with higher scores indicating a greater ten- and (g) choosing prizes (5 min), in which the dyad
dency to attribute hostile intent and lower scores used the points that they had jointly earned in
indicating a greater tendency to attribute benign exchange for prizes.
intent. In previous studies using this measure, a The interactions were videotaped through a one-
more hostile attribution bias was associated with way mirror and coded based on previous coding
aggression (Crick et al., 2002), and a more benign schemes (e.g., Allhusen, Flyr, Parke, & Clarke-Stew-
bias predicted prosocial behavior (Laible et al., art, 2003) and research assessing friendship quality
2014) among third- to sixth-grade children. via observational methods (e.g., Dishion, Patterson,
& Griesler, 1994). The coders rated the individual
behaviors of the study child and the interaction
Emotional Intensity
quality of the child–friend dyad across the play ses-
At Grade 4, teachers of the study child and the sions at each time point on 5-point scales (1 = not at
friend, respectively, completed a questionnaire that all characteristic to 5 = highly characteristic). Ratings
was developed from similar measures of EI used in on four behaviors were used in the current report:
previous studies (Eisenberg et al., 1995; Larsen & (a) the study child’s negative behavior (e.g., intru-
Diener, 1987). Teachers rated the child’s frequency siveness, hostility, verbal, and physical aggression),
of experiencing and expressing strong emotions as (b) the dyad’s negative interaction (e.g., conflict,
described by 10 items (e.g., “When this child feels disagreement, aversive interchanges), (c) the study
an emotion, either positive or negative, he or she child’s positive behavior (e.g., positive engagement
feels it strongly”) on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 with friend, accommodating the friend’s wishes),
(never) to 5 (always). EI scores were computed as and (d) the dyad’s overall friendship quality (e.g.,
the sum of teacher ratings on the 10 items, with five reciprocity, enjoyment, agreement). Other ratings of
items reverse scored so that higher values indicated child–friend interaction were not used in this report
higher EI (a = .83 for study children, a = .78 for because they were not available at both time points.
Attribution Biases and Emotional Intensity 7

Interobserver reliability was assessed for 11% of positive child–friend interaction. We examined both
the dyads (n = 100 and 103, Grades 4 and 6, respec- study children’s behavior and dyadic interaction
tively). Although double coding 20% of cases is the ratings as indicators of the latent factors because (a)
typical “rule of thumb,” reliability samples based study children’s behavior toward the friend and
on smaller proportions of cases are appropriate dyadic interaction quality, which both underlie
when samples are large because the absolute num- friendship quality, were closely related (rs ranged
ber (vs. proportion) of cases is more relevant to the from .52 to .77, see Table 1), and (b) a latent factor
representativeness of the reliability subsample (see based on the two related scores is likely to be a
Yoder & Symons, 2010). Reliability coefficients were more robust and reliable measure of child–friend
computed via intraclass correlations and were mod- interaction quality than using a single score. The
erate to high for the study child’s negative (.94 and covariances between the error terms of the latent
.91, Grades 4 and 6, respectively) and positive (.87 negative and positive interaction variables at Grade
and .92) behavior, as well as the dyad’s negative 6 were estimated, as were covariances among the
interaction (.89 and .91) and overall friendship qual- predictors at Grade 4.
ity (.94 and .91). To reduce collinearity between the main effects
and the interaction term, we used centered scores
(raw score minus the mean) of attribution bias and
Data Analytic Strategy
EI in all model tests. Because we used centered
Using Mplus 7.3 (Muthen & Muthen, 1998–2012), scores, the main effect of attribution bias reflected
we fitted a structural equation model to assess its relation with the outcome when EI was at the
whether study children’s attribution biases, EI, and mean (i.e., 0), and the main effect of EI reflected its
the Attribution Bias 9 EI interaction at Grade 4 relation with the outcome when attribution bias
predicted child–friend interaction at Grade 6, above was at the mean (i.e., 0), even when the Attribution
and beyond child–friend interaction at Grade 4. At Bias 9 EI interaction was included in the model.
both time points, ratings of study children’s nega- Testing a “main effects only” model (i.e., without
tive behavior and dyads’ negative interaction were the Attribution Bias 9 EI term) yielded main effect
indicators of a latent variable of negative child– parameters identical to those reported below and in
friend interaction, and ratings of study children’s Table 2.
positive behavior and dyads’ overall friendship In probing significant Attribution Bias 9 EI
quality were indicators of a latent variable of interactions, we plotted the association between

Table 1
Intercorrelations Among the Study Measures

Study measures (time point) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

1. SC attribution biases (G4) — .13** .10** .08* .04 .07 .12** .06 .12** .09**
2. SC EI (G4) .15** — .12** .10* .01 .03 .12** .08* .01 .002
3. SC negative behavior (G4) .10* .16** — .58** .43** .46** .21** .16** .13** .11*
4. DY negative interaction (G4) .06 .12* .60** — .32** .47** .09** .13** .04 .07*
5. SC positive behavior (G4) .01 .04 .43** .32** — .77** .10** .09** .21** .21**
6. DY overall friendship .04 .05 .45** .45** .77** — .09* .05 .20** .19**
quality (G4)
7. SC negative behavior (G6) .10* .15** .21** .06 .07 .05 — .52** .33** .31**
8. DY negative interaction (G6) .07 .12** .19** .14** .09* .05 .54** — .26** .32**
9. SC positive behavior (G6) .06* .02 .14** .02 .16** .16** .37** .25** — .73**
10. DY overall friendship .04 .02 .11* .03 .20** .16** .33** .32** .74** —
quality (G6)
N 882 777 814 814 814 814 913 913 913 913
M 0.29 28.42 1.51 1.55 3.50 3.45 1.38 1.25 3.43 3.44
SD 0.23 6.72 0.76 0.76 0.86 1.01 0.62 0.51 0.73 0.80
Range 0–1 11–50 1–5 1–5 1–5 1–5 1–5 1–5 1–5 1–5

Note. Bivariate correlations are reported above the diagonal, and partial correlations controlling for study children’s gender and ethnic-
ity and maternal years of education are reported below the diagonal. SC = study child; DY = dyad; G4 = Grade 4; G6 = Grade 6.
*p < .05. **p < .01.
8 Chen, McElwain, and Lansford

Table 2 Among the 913 study children included in the


Unstandardized and Standardized Path Coefficients for the Hypothe- current report, some data were missing on the pre-
sized Model dictors at Grade 4 (i.e., 3.4% on attribution biases,
Paths estimated B (SE) b R2 14.9% on EI, and 10.8% on child–friend interaction;
also see Table 1). We used full information maxi-
Predictors of negative child– .10*** mum likelihood (FIML)—which offers less biased
friend interaction (G6) estimates compared with more traditional methods
Study child’s gender (male = 0, .01 (.04) .01 such as listwise deletion (Schafer & Graham, 2002)
female = 1) —to handle these missing data. We did not include
Study child’s ethnicity .02 (.05) .02
study children who had missing values on Grade 6
(White = 0, other = 1)
outcomes because including those cases does not
Maternal years of education .01 (.01) .06
Negative child–friend .19 (.04) .24***
provide additional information for model estima-
interaction at (G4) tion (Acock, 2005). Given that the chi-square test of
Attribution biases (G4) .15 (.08) .07 model fit is almost always significant when sample
EI (G4) .01 (.003) .09* sizes are large, we used the comparative fit index
Attribution Bias 9 EI (G4) .03 (.01) .10* (CFI) and root mean square error of approximation
Predictors of positive child– .13*** (RMSEA) to assess model fit. CFI values of 0.90
friend interaction (G6) and above indicate an adequate fit, and values of
Study child’s gender (male = 0, .18 (.04) .15*** 0.95 and above indicate a good fit (Hu & Bentler,
female = 1) 1995). RMSEA values < 0.08 indicate an adequate
Study child’s ethnicity .18 (.05) .12**
fit, and values < 0.05 indicate a good fit (Browne &
(White = 0, other = 1)
Cudeck, 1993).
Maternal years of education .03 (.01) .13**
Positive child–friend .19 (.03) .22***
We also conducted four sets of follow-up analy-
interaction (G4) ses, including multigroup analyses to assess
Attribution biases (G4) .21 (.10) .08* whether the hypothesized associations differed as a
EI (G4) .003 (.003) .03 function of study child gender or friend status (i.e.,
Attribution Bias 9 EI (G4) .03 (.02) .08* whether same vs. different friends participated in
Grade 4 and Grade 6 visits). Furthermore, for dyads
Note. G4 = Grade 4; G6 = Grade 6. EI = emotional intensity. in which the same friend participated at both time
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
points (n = 320), we controlled for the friend’s
Grade 4 attribution bias and EI in our main model.
Finally, we created separate subscales of positive,
study children’s attribution bias and negative (or negative, and general EI from the EI questionnaire
positive) child–friend interaction at high (1 SD completed by teachers and tested the hypothesized
above M) and low (1 SD below M) levels of EI, and model with these subscale scores as predictors. To
we tested the simple slopes. Furthermore, to differ- tease apart valence-specific EI, we controlled for
entiate between the “disruptor” and “fuel” interpre- positive EI when testing negative EI as a predictor
tations, we conducted complementary simple slope and vice versa (see Supporting Information for
analyses for the associations between EI and child– more details).
friend interactions when attribution bias was more
hostile versus benign. The “disruptor” interpreta-
tion would be supported if the simple slope analy- Results
ses together indicated that (a) a more hostile
Preliminary Analyses
attribution bias predicted more negative interaction
(and less positive interaction) only when EI was Study children’s gender, ethnicity, and maternal
high, and (b) higher EI predicted more negative years of education were examined as potential
interaction and less positive interaction only when covariates. Compared with boys, girls received
children held a more hostile attribution bias. In con- higher ratings on study child positive behavior,
trast, the “fuel” interpretation would be supported t(911) = 4.69, p < .001, and dyadic overall friend-
if the complementary simple slope analysis (i.e., ship quality, t(911) = 4.75, p < .001, at Grade 6. In
“b” above) indicated that higher EI predicted more examining study child ethnicity, we compared chil-
negative interaction when children held a more hos- dren identified as non-Hispanic White to all other
tile attribution bias, and more positive interaction racial and ethnic groups combined given the rela-
when children held a more benign attribution bias. tively small sizes of other groups in this sample.
Attribution Biases and Emotional Intensity 9

Non-Hispanic White children, on average, exhibited predicted negative child–friend interaction at Grade
a more benign attribution bias, t(880) = 2.91, 6, controlling for stability in negative child–friend
p = .004, and lower EI, t(775) = 2.48, p = .013, at interaction from Grade 4 to Grade 6 (B = .19,
Grade 4, and received lower ratings on dyadic neg- SE = .04, p < .001). In probing the significant inter-
ative interaction, t(911) = .46, p = .014, and higher action, we conducted simple slopes analyses to
ratings on study child positive behavior, assess associations between study children’s attribu-
t(911) = 4.85, p < .001, and dyadic overall friend- tion biases and negative child–friend interaction at
ship quality, t(911) = 4.79, p < .001, at Grade 6. high (1 SD above M) and low (1 SD below M)
Additionally, maternal education was negatively levels of EI. As seen in Figure 3a, a more hostile
related to hostile attribution bias at Grade 4 attribution bias predicted more negative child–
(r = 16, p < .001) and study child negative behav- friend interaction at high (B = .36, SE = .12,
ior (r = .07, p = .041) and dyadic negative interac- p = .003) but not low (B = .06, SE = .12, p = .616)
tion (r = .08, p = .023) at Grade 6, and was levels of EI. As also seen in Figure 3a, greater EI
positively related to study child positive behavior predicted more negative child–friend interaction
(r = .17, p < .001) and dyadic overall friendship when study children’s attribution biases were more
quality (r = .15, p < .001) at Grade 6. Therefore, hostile (B = .01, SE = .004, p = .001) but not when
study children’s gender (male = 0, female = 1), eth- attribution biases were more benign (B < .001,
nicity (White = 0, other = 1), and maternal years of SE = .004, p = .905). This pattern is consistent with
education were included as covariates. Descriptive both the “fuel” and “disruptor” interpretations (see
statistics and intercorrelations among the main Figures 1a and 1c).
study measures are presented in Table 1. Bivariate Study children’s attribution biases (B = .21,
correlations are shown above the diagonal; partial SE = .10, p = .028) and the interaction between
correlations controlling for study children’s gender, study children’s attribution biases and EI (B = .03,
ethnicity, and maternal education are shown below SE = .02, p = .037) predicted positive child–friend
the diagonal. With respect to attribution bias, study interaction at Grade 6, controlling for stability in
children, on average, were more likely to hold a positive child–friend interaction from Grade 4 to
benign versus hostile bias (see Table 1). Although Grade 6 (B = .19, SE = .03, p < .001). As shown in
the distribution was slightly positively skewed Figure 3b, a more hostile attribution bias predicted
(skewness = 0.65, SE = .082), scores spanned the less positive child–friend interaction at high
full possible range (0–1), and 141 children scored (B = .41, SE = .14, p = .003) but not low
above .50, which indicates that these children were (B = .01, SE = .14, p = .962) levels of EI. As also
more likely to attribute hostile versus benign intent seen in Figure 3b, higher EI predicted more positive
to ambiguous provocations. child–friend interaction when study children’s attri-
bution biases were more benign (B = .01, SE = .005,
p = .041) versus more hostile (B = .004, SE = .005,
Test of the Hypothesized Model
p = .366). This pattern is consistent with the “fuel”
As expected, given the large sample size, the chi- (see Figure 1d) rather than the “disruptor” (see Fig-
square test for the hypothesized model was signifi- ure 1b) interpretation.
cant, v2(55, N = 913) = 171.276, p < .001. Fit indices
indicated a good fit, CFI = 0.956, RMSEA = 0.048.
Follow-Up Analyses
Standardized path estimates and R2 values for the
model are presented in Figure 2. For ease of presen- To assess the robustness of our main results, we
tation, covariates and within-time covariances are next summarize findings from four follow-up anal-
not shown in Figure 2. Standardized estimates of yses (see Supporting Information for more details).
the covariance between the latent variables for neg- First, a multigroup analysis assessing study child
ative and positive child–friend interaction were gender as a moderator of the eight paths depicted
.62 and .49, Grades 4 and 6, respectively. We in Figure 2 indicated that a more hostile attribution
focus our summary below on key paths and report bias predicted less positive child–friend interaction
unstandardized coefficients (B), although both for girls but not for boys, and higher EI predicted
unstandardized and standardized coefficients (b) more positive child–friend interaction for boys but
for all estimated paths are shown in Table 2. not for girls. All other paths, including the paths
Study children’s EI (B = .01, SE = .003, p = .029) from the Attribution Bias 9 EI interaction term to
and the interaction between study children’s attri- child–friend interaction outcomes, did not differ by
bution biases and EI (B = .03, SE = .01, p = .016) study child gender. Second, a multigroup analysis
10 Chen, McElwain, and Lansford

2
R = .64*** Grade 4 Grade 6

Study Child’s
.80***
Negative Behavior
Negative Child-Friend
Interaction 2
.24*** R = .60***
Dyad’s Negative
.73*** 2
R = .10***
Interaction Study Child’s
.77***
2 Negative Behavior
R = .53*** .07
Attribution Biases Negative Child-Friend
(AB) Interaction
.67*** Dyad’s Negative
.09* Interaction
.10*
2
Emotional R = .45***
2
Intensity (EI) R = .73***
-.08* Study Child’s
-.03 .85***
Positive Behavior
Positive Child-Friend
AB × EI -.08*
Interaction
2
R = .66*** Dyad’s Overall
.85*** Friendship
Study Child’s 2
.81*** R = .13*** 2
Positive Behavior R = .72***
Positive Child-Friend .22***
Interaction
Dyad’s Overall
Friendship .94***
2
R = .89***

Figure 2. Attribution biases, EI, and Attribution Bias 9 EI (AB 9 EI) interaction at Grade 4 as predictors of negative and positive
child–friend interaction at Grade 6, and above and beyond negative and positive child–friend interaction at Grade 4.
Note. The model (N = 913) was estimated using full information maximum likelihood. Standardized coefficients are presented. Paths
represented by solid lines were significant. Paths represented by dotted lines were nonsignificant. R2 estimates are presented for each
endogenous variable. Study children’s gender, ethnicity, and maternal education were included as covariates in the model. For ease of
presentation, error terms, within-time covariances, and covariates are not shown. Coefficients of all estimated paths are shown in
Table 2. EI = emotional intensity.
*p < .05. ***p < .001.

assessing friendship status (i.e., the same friend vs. positive, negative, and general EI using the 10-item
different friends participated at the two time points) teacher questionnaire. Internal consistency of the
as a moderator of the eight paths depicted in Fig- subscales was marginally acceptable (positive EI:
ure 2 was nonsignificant. Third, for dyads in which three items, a = .61; negative EI: three items, a = .69;
the same friend participated at both time points general EI: four items, a = .70). Subscale scores were
(n = 320), we controlled for friends’ attribution positively correlated (r = .36, p < .001, for positive
biases and EI at Grade 4. The friends’ characteristics and negative EI; r = .66, p < .001, for positive and
did not significantly predict child–friend interaction general EI; r = .58, p < .001, for negative and general
quality at Grade 6, and the interactive contributions EI). We recomputed tests of our main model with
of study children’s attribution biases and EI to each subscale score as a predictor in place of the 10-
child–friend positive and negative interaction out- item composite score. To tease apart valence-specific
comes remained significant. For some dyads EI, we controlled for positive EI when testing nega-
(n = 75), the same teacher reported on both the tive EI as a predictor, and vice versa. Full model
friend’s and study child’s EI, whereas for other results are reported in Supporting Information, and
dyads (n = 147), different teachers reported on each we focus here on the tests of the Attribution
dyad member’s EI. For this reason, we also con- Bias 9 EI interactions. Of the six interactions tested
ducted a multigroup analysis to examine whether (3 valence predictors 9 2 friendship outcomes), five
the paths in the third follow-up analysis differed as indicated a pattern that was consistent with the inter-
a function of this factor, and we found no signifi- action probes reported in Figures 3a and 3b for the
cant differences. main model (see Figures S1A–S6A). The Attribution
Finally, to test the robustness of the findings for Bias 9 Negative EI interaction predicting positive
valence-specific EI (EI), we created subscales of child–friend interaction, however, showed a different
Attribution Biases and Emotional Intensity 11

(a) Attribution Bias × Emotional Intensity on Negative Interaction

0.15 High Emoonal

Negave Child-friend Interacon at Grade 6


Intensity

0.1 Low Emoonal


Intensity
β = .17**
0.05
β = .20**

β=
-0.05 -.01
β = -.03

-0.1
-0.23 0 0.23
Aribuon Biases at Grade 4

(b) Attribution Bias × Emotional Intensity on Positive Interaction

0.15 High Emoonal


Posive Child-friend Interacon at Grade 6

Intensity

0.1 Low Emoonal


Intensity

β= β = -.15**
0.05 .11**

β = -.002
-0.05 β = -.05

-0.1
-0.23 0 0.23
Aribuon Biases at Grade 4

Figure 3. The associations between Grade 4 attribution biases and Grade 6 negative (a) and positive (b) child–friend interaction as a
function of Grade 4 EI, and the association between Grade 4 EI and Grade 6 negative (a) and positive (b) child–friend interaction as a
function of Grade 4 attribution biases.
Note. Standardized coefficients of the simple slopes are presented. Higher scores on attribution biases indicate a more hostile bias and
lower scores on attribution biases indicate a more benign bias. EI = emotional intensity.
**p < .01.

pattern. Consistent with the “disruptor” interpreta-


Discussion
tion, positive child–friend interaction was particu-
larly low when study children’s negative EI was high During the transition from childhood to adoles-
and attribution biases were more hostile (see cence, friends play an increasingly important role in
Figure S4A). children’s lives, and friendships characterized by
12 Chen, McElwain, and Lansford

support and caring bode well for preadolescents’ interactions with friends or (b) “motivating” chil-
social adjustment and emotional well-being (e.g., dren who hold a hostile attribution bias to act on
Nangle et al., 2003; Waldrip et al., 2008). As such, these negative cognitions, thereby spurring negative
we aimed to better understand individual charac- behaviors toward, and exchanges with, friends.
teristics that may predict friendship quality during To better tease apart the “disruptor” versus
this developmental period. In doing so, we “fuel” interpretations, we examined the interaction
extended existing literature on the relation between between study children’s attribution biases and EI
attribution biases and children’s social functioning as a predictor of positive child–friend interaction.
among general peers to the context of friendship. In Paralleling our main finding for negative child–
addition, building on theoretical work on the inter- friend interaction, children who reported a more
play of cognitive and emotional processes in child hostile attribution bias at Grade 4 engaged in less
development (Calkins & Bell, 2010) and emotion- positive child–friend interaction at Grade 6 but only
related factors affecting social information process- when EI was high or moderate. Notably, the pat-
ing (Lemerise & Arsenio, 2000), we examined the tern of this interaction supports the “fuel” rather
interactive contributions of children’s attribution than the “disruptor” interpretation. That is, study
biases and EI at Grade 4 to the quality of child– children with a more benign attribution bias and
friend interaction at Grade 6. Furthermore, we high EI showed especially high levels of positive
disentangled two competing interpretations (i.e., child–friend interaction. In contrast, when EI was
“disruptor” vs. “fuel”) for EI as a moderator by low, attribution biases did not predict positive
examining both negative and positive child–friend child–friend interaction, and the level of positive
interactions as outcomes and assessing general EI child–friend interaction was relatively low overall.
so that intensity and valence were not confounded. In follow-up analyses predicting positive child–
Below, we discuss findings from the main test of friend interaction using valence-specific measures of
our hypothesized model and consider the robust- EI, tests of positive and general (but not negative)
ness of the results based on findings that emerged EI yielded the same interaction pattern as above
from a series of follow-up analyses. (i.e., supporting the “fuel” interpretation). Although
As hypothesized, study children’s more hostile these additional analyses provide insight into the
attribution bias at Grade 4 predicted more negative role of emotional valence, we caution against draw-
child–friend interaction at Grade 6 but only when ing strong conclusions, especially for positive EI,
study children’s EI was high. Specifically, study given the small number of items used to create the
children with a more hostile attribution bias and subscale scores, the marginally acceptable reliability
high EI showed especially high levels of negative of the subscales, and the marginally significant
child–friend interaction. In contrast, when study Attribution Bias 9 EI interaction effects obtained in
children’s EI was low, attribution biases did not the follow-up analyses. Studies with measures
predict negative child–friend interaction, and the specifically designed to assess valence-specific EI
level of negative interaction was relatively low are needed to fully unpack how positive and nega-
overall. Follow-up analyses predicting negative tive EI interact with attribution biases to predict
child–friend interaction using valence-specific mea- children’s social functioning.
sures of EI yielded the same interaction pattern. Taken together, our main findings for the predic-
The above findings are consistent with prior tion of negative and positive child–friend interac-
studies in which hostile attributions and other tion suggest that high levels of general EI—which
aggressogenic thoughts were positively associated is associated with high arousal and approach-
with aggressive behavior but only among children oriented tendencies, such as extraversion (Eggum
and young adolescents who also exhibited high dis- et al., 2012; Rothbart & Bates, 1998; Rydell et al.,
positional anger (Roos et al., 2016; Runions & Keat- 2003)—may act as interpersonal “fuel” that moti-
ing, 2010). Recalling the hypothesized results in vates or spurs action or interaction. Complementing
Figure 1, we underscore that both the “disruptor” the fuel interpretation, we also posit that attribution
and “fuel” interpretations can be applied to these biases act as the “compass” that points children’s
findings. That is, high EI may strengthen the link interactions in certain directions. As such, children
between a hostile attribution bias and negative who hold a more hostile attribution bias may be
child–friend interaction by (a) “disrupting” social more likely to act on this bias and engage in more
information processing such that children who negative interactions with friends when the bias is
hold a hostile attribution bias and experience fueled by intense emotions. Likewise, children who
intense emotions may be at “dual risk” for poor hold a more benign attribution bias may engage in
Attribution Biases and Emotional Intensity 13

more positive interactions with friends when this Although the main effect of study children’s
bias is again fueled by intense emotions. In con- attribution biases on child–friend interactions was
trast, children’s attribution biases may show weak qualified by study children’s EI (as well as child
relations to child–friend interaction quality when gender, see below), it is noteworthy that the main
children are low on emotional “fuel” (i.e., low EI) effect of attribution bias emerged for positive but
that may be needed to motivate behavior toward, not negative child–friend interaction. Specifically,
and sustained interaction with, friends. study children who exhibited a more hostile attri-
In contrast with the findings for general EI, the bution bias at Grade 4 engaged in less positive
follow-up test of negative EI yielded an interaction child–friend interactions at Grade 6. This finding
pattern supporting the “disruptor” interpretation. differed from those of past studies examining simi-
Namely, positive child–friend interaction was espe- lar relations during preadolescence, in which a
cially low when study children exhibited a more more hostile attribution bias was concurrently asso-
hostile attribution bias and high negative EI. This ciated with child reports of more conflict with
finding is consistent with Lemerise and Arsenio’s friends but not with child reports of positive friend-
(2000) framework, which suggests that negative ship features (Bowker et al., 2010; Spencer et al.,
emotions specifically may interfere with or impede 2013). The inconsistency in results may be due, in
children’s processing of social information. Past part, to how friendship quality was measured. In
work indicates, however, that the disruptive effect self-reports, children may overstate positive features
of negative emotions may be further qualified by of friendship, resulting in a ceiling effect. In con-
the child’s self-regulatory abilities or moral emo- trast, in laboratory observations, children may
tions. For instance, among 6-year-olds, hostile engage in fewer and less intense negative interac-
attribution bias was positively associated with tions with friends than they might in more private
mother-reported aggression but only for children or naturalistic contexts, making it more difficult to
with high anger proneness and low inhibitory con- capture relations involving negative child–friend
trol (Runions & Keating, 2010). Additionally, con- interactions.
trolling for child inhibitory control, more intense Finally, we note that follow-up analyses indi-
anger predicted more aggressive behavior among cated that study children’s more hostile attribution
4- to 12-year-old children, but the anger–aggression bias predicted less positive child–friend interaction
association was mitigated for children who reported for girls but not for boys. This result is consistent
high levels of moral emotions (i.e., guilt, sympathy; with the previous finding that a hostile attribution
Colasante, Zuffiano, & Malti, 2015). In sum, future bias concurrently predicted lower self-reported
studies should consider additional moderators that friendship quality only for girls (Dwyer et al.,
may buffer the disruptive effects of intense negative 2010). Because girls tend to have higher vigilance to
emotions on cognitive and behavioral processes. rejection by friends than do boys (Menon, 2011;
It is important to emphasize that for both the Rose & Rudolph, 2006), girls may be more likely to
main model test and follow-up analyses, the inter- withdraw from positive interactions when they per-
active contributions of study children’s attribution ceive a friend’s actions as hostile. Additionally,
biases and EI on child–friend interactions emerged study children’s higher EI predicted more positive
above and beyond demographic characteristics (i.e., child–friend interaction for boys but not for girls.
study children’s gender, ethnicity, and maternal Early adolescent boys are more likely than girls to
education) and assessments of child–friend interac- downplay the emotional importance of friendships
tion quality at Grade 4 (see Supporting Information and to inhibit tender feelings and intimacy (Menon,
for further information about stability in child– 2011). Boys who have higher levels of EI, therefore,
friend interaction from Grades 4 to 6). In addition, may be more emotionally involved during interac-
the interactive contributions did not differ in tions with friends than other boys, and increased
strength as a function of study children’s gender or emotional involvement may promote positive inter-
friendship status (i.e., the same friend vs. different actions for these boys. Another possible explanation
friends participated at the two time points) and is that compared with girls, whose interactions with
remained significant after controlling for friends’ friends are calmer and center on self-disclosure,
attribution biases and EI at Grade 4. The results of boys engage more in coordinated games and often
these follow-up analyses, therefore, indicate that share heightened excitement and humor with
our main findings for the interactive contributions friends (see Rose & Asher, 2017). Thus, high EI
of study children’s attribution biases and EI to may stimulate high-amplitude positive affect and
child–friend interaction quality are robust. behavior especially in boys.
14 Chen, McElwain, and Lansford

We note several limitations of the current study. and intimate, these positive experiences may foster
First, our measure of attribution biases was based positive cognitions and benign attributions about
on child responses to ambiguous provocations by peers in general. Tests of such reciprocal relations,
nonspecified peers, thereby capturing the child’s which we were not able to conduct because attri-
more global tendency to attribute hostile versus bution biases were not measured at Grade 6, are
benign intent. Although global attribution biases warranted.
toward general peers are associated with children’s Finally, follow-up analyses indicated that
attribution biases toward specific peers (Hubbard friends’ attribution biases and EI at Grade 4 did
et al., 2001) and has been found to predict friend- not contribute to the child–friend interaction out-
ship quality (Bowker, Rubin, Burgess, Booth- comes at Grade 6. These null findings are some-
LaForce, & Rose-Krasnor, 2006; Spencer et al., what surprising, and we consider two possible
2013), attribution biases toward a specific relation- explanations. First, because coders rated both the
ship partner is a more robust predictor of the study child’s behavior and the interaction of the
child’s interaction with that partner (Hubbard et al., child–friend dyad but not the friend’s behavior,
2001; Peets, Hodges, & Salmivalli, 2011). Measuring the ratings of dyadic interaction may have been
attribution biases across multiple relationship part- influenced by greater attention to the behavior of
ners and using multilevel modeling to tease apart the study child. Second, the study child had vis-
effects of relationship-general versus relationship- ited the laboratory setting many times, beginning
specific biases on individuals’ interactions with dif- at 15 months of age, and was perhaps more at
ferent relationship partners would be a fruitful ease than the friend during the laboratory visit.
future direction. Relatedly, the “fuel” effect of gen- As such, the study child may have been “driv-
eral EI may be especially salient in the context of ing” the interaction with the friend. Future stud-
friendships, given that children have more positive ies should use parallel procedures and measures
exchanges with friends than with general peers for the study child’s and friend’s behaviors dur-
(Newcomb & Bagwell, 1995). Thus, it remains an ing assessments of child–friend interaction. Doing
open and important question as to how attribution so would permit testing an actor–partner interde-
biases and general EI interact to predict positive pendence model in which each child’s cognitions
peer outcomes beyond friendship, such as positive and emotions predict the child’s own behavior
interaction with new peer partners or acceptance in (actor effects) and the friend’s behavior (partner
the larger peer group. effects).
In addition, given the truncated measure of Despite these limitations, the current findings
attribution biases used in this report (5 items vs. reveal that during preadolescence, when friends
10 items from the original measure), we combined play an increasingly important role in children’s
items assessing biases in response to instrumental lives, attribution biases and EI interactively predict
and relational provocations. Yet, instrumental and child–friend positive and negative interaction qual-
relational attribution biases have shown distinct ity across a 2-year interval. Our findings also pro-
links to physical and relational aggression toward vide support for the notion that general EI may
general peers (e.g., Crick, 1995; Crick et al., 2002; “fuel” children to act on their cognitive biases—for
Godleski & Ostrov, 2010), and future studies better or for worse—in their interactions with close
should explore such differential associations with friends. By understanding how these cognitive and
indices of child–friend interaction quality. Further- emotional processes work together, parents, teach-
more, because girls are more sensitive to relational ers, and clinicians will be better equipped to pro-
provocations than boys (Godleski & Ostrov, 2010), mote young adolescents’ positive relationships
additional gender differences may emerge when with friends.
instrumental and relational attribution biases are
examined separately.
Furthermore, reciprocal relations likely exist References
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18 Chen, McElwain, and Lansford

Table S2. Unstandardized and Standardized Table S3. Unstandardized and Standardized
Path Coefficients for the Model Testing Negative Path Coefficients for the Model Testing Subscale
Emotional Intensity (EI; Three Items) as a Predictor General Emotional Intensity (Four Items) as a Pre-
of Child–Friend Interaction Quality, Controlling for dictor of Child–Friend Interaction Quality
Positive EI (Three Items) Data S1. Follow-Up Analyses