Peer Ethology Project

Social Behavior in the Context of the Peer Group: The Social Defense System and Children's Reactivity to Peer Threat

The Peer Ethology Project (PEP) focuses on the application of ethological and evolutionary theory towards a more thorough understanding of the implications of social dynamics on children's mental health. Utilizing an existing data set of video-recorded small group free-play sessions from a summer camp program for high-risk children, the research team works to identify differences in children's behaviors and individual patterns of coping with threat and hostility in peer interactions. Specifically, our research team is focused on:

  • Developing assessment tools to capture the functioning of multiple behavioral systems, particularly the social defense system, in organizing children's behaviors with peers in the context of threat
  • Identifying the complex configurations of the peer group and social environment that are likely to draw for and help to sustain particular patterns of social defense responding
  • Mapping the mental health and adjustment sequelae associated with the adoption of unique strategies for coping with peer threat

Navigating the social world of peers is a critical task for all children as well as a potential source of both stress and support. By adopting an ethological perspective, the Peer Ethology Project will provide key insights into the developmental meaning of the multitude of ways in which children cope with inevitable conflict and stress in peer relationships.

Peer Ethology Project

Peer Ethology Project

Official Title: Ethological Analysis of Children's Profiles of Emotional Security in Peer Contexts

Sponsor: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Amount Funded:

$250,000 for period of 2012-2014

Principal Investigators:

Patrick Davies, Ph.D.
Melissa Sturge-Apple, Ph.D.
Dante Cicchetti, Ph.D.
Fred Rogosch, Ph.D.