Temperament, attention, and the social world: New empirical approaches to the study of shyness and attention in middle childhood
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In order to navigate their social world, children must come prepared to flexibly attend to and shift between the many different aspects of an interaction. For temperamentally shy children, for whom the demands of everyday interactions may be particularly onerous, attention may be particularly critical in predicting their ability to connect with others and achieve positive social outcomes. The studies presented in this dissertation sought to develop new means of assessing the interplay between individual differences in temperament and attention in social contexts in order to better understand how to support the social development of shy children. Chapter 2 examined how 8-year-old children’s ability to shift their attention in a hierarchical figures task varied as a function of shyness and the perception that one’s performance would later be evaluated by peers. As shyness increased, children were slower to respond in the peer monitoring condition relative to the baseline condition, but these changes in response time were not accompanied by changes in accuracy. These results highlight that under social conditions, shy children’s behaviour may be subtly impacted in a way that makes them slower or less efficient to act in line with their goals. Chapter 3 builds on these findings by exploring the fluidity of children’s social behaviour using a novel index of social connection: conversational response time. Nine- to 11-year-old children were observed conversing with an unfamiliar same-aged peer in an unstructured dyadic context. Their communications and behaviours were later coded on the basis of their content and timing. Faster conversational response time was associated with higher ratings of social engagement in both children themselves and (marginally) in their partners. Moreover, as a child’s own shyness increased, the conversational response times of their partner also increased. The findings from this study demonstrate how subtle changes in conversational response time underlie the quality of children’s interactions and may thereby impact their ability to form new social relationships across development. Exploring new means of empirically studying children’s moment-to-moment subjective experiences, Chapter 4 examined 7- and 8-year-old children’s self-reports of mind wandering while keeping time with a metronome via keypress on a keyboard. Consistent with past adult findings, children were less accurate and more variable in their keypresses on trials preceding self-reports of mind wandering, supporting the validity of their reports. Additionally, parent reports of children’s self-regulation difficulties were predictive of children’s keypress behaviour, lending further support for its validity as a measure. Together, the findings from these studies build on existing theoretical work and lay the groundwork for future research that will ultimately serve to optimize the social development of shy and non-shy children alike.
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McLennon Wilson (2023). Temperament, attention, and the social world: New empirical approaches to the study of shyness and attention in middle childhood. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/19448