In the 1970s, the understanding of the process of friendship remained an under-researched area of psychology. Friendships can take on many different forms and the role of friendships and the influence from peers can change with age. For many years, the role of friends and the influence of friends on the behavior of children had been left untouched in the psychology field. Bigelow and La Gaipa (1975) cited in Brownlow (2012,p.242) looked at the differences in children’s understanding of friendships at various stages of development. In this essay, I will evaluate the usefulness of their research for understanding children’s friendships.
In order to investigate children’s understanding of friendship, Bigelow and La Gaipa got children between the ages of six and fourteen to write an essay that described the relationship with a ‘best friend’ of the same sex. Using this method enabled the children to write whatever they felt was important to them as individuals, and the data was then collected in the format of the written text so qualitative data. (Brownlow,2012.p.245)
Before starting their studies they created a list of different characteristics that children might want to include when describing their best friend. They divided the list into 21 categories and then used context analysis in each essay. The essays were then analyzed and rated on the 21 dimensions created by the researchers and then a frequency count was applied. This proved to be a useful method as there was a possibility of comparing differences in the understanding of friendship between children of different ages or opposite sexes. The applied generalization greatly contributed to the understanding of friendship between children.
However, this method did have limitations because it was allocating the characteristics of friendships to predetermined coding, by doing so preventing the inclusion of friendship traits that did not fit into the pre-determined categories. Therefore, the transformation of qualitative into quantitative data may well have caused a loss in the understanding of the individual and personal aspects of the studied children. On the other hand, using numbers is easy and quick as you are quantifying, and it allowed them to draw reasoning about the differences between the age groups and make more systematic comparisons between boys and girls. (Brownlow,2012,p.245). By taking the written essays and turning them into a numerical format, they transformed the qualitative data into quantitative.
Had a qualitative approach been used it may have retained more of the individual depth of some of the responses. Their research was also limited in that it only looked at the same sexes. Another consideration is that younger children may find it difficult to write essays to express themselves in written form as younger children may lack the communication skills necessary to effectively discuss expectations in this form (Brownlow,2012,p.249)
The work of Bigelow and La Gaipa was groundbreaking for its time and played a major role in highlighting the development of friendship and the children’s changing understanding of friendship as they mature. However, at the time that they carried out their research, they could not have predicted the advances in technology or the speed of its progression. They would not have known that the concept of friendship would be extended to online friendships too. This is a good example of how technology has advanced and how the changing nature of human interaction constantly throws up new challenges for psychologists to address (Brownlow,2012,p.263)
Once completed the children’s essays were gathered, analyzed, and rated on twenty-one dimensions. Their findings highlighted three stages of children’s development in friendship expectations. From carrying out the research it was concluded that children move from egocentric to empathetic expectations of friendship.
Damon (1977) cited in Brownlow (2012,p.249) also carried out research on children’s friendships using interviewing which was a different method from Bigelow and La Gaipa. A major difference was that he was focusing on an individual level and didn’t compare to predetermined categories. He also didn’t try to make generalizations with regard to development age whereas Bigelow and La Gaipa did. (Brownlow,2012,p.249)
Corsaro (2006) cited in Brownlow (2012,p.250) also researched children’s friendships. He focused on how children talk to each other like Damon believing that research should focus on children’s individual understandings of the word ‘friend’. Corsaro wanted to explore what friendship means at particular times and how it is described in communication between children, rather than in a formal interview with an adult researcher.
Corsaro’s work involved making detailed notes of children’s activities and their interactions with others, as well as video recordings. This was an ethnographic study that was qualitative. His use of an ethnographic approach allowed for rich, complex data to be gathered, enabling a researcher to observe first-hand accounts of a child’s experience. With Bigelow & Gaipa you get a broad generalized picture, but not the detail. In contrast, Corsaro’s use of qualitative data provides richer detail. Corsaro’s approach was more flexible as children may vary. His finding that younger children showed concern for their friends contradicted Bigelow and La Gaipa’s model. Corsaro looked at cultural differences whereas Bigelow and La Gaipa looked at evolutional differences. Cultural influences may have an important role in shaping our understanding of friendships.
In conclusion, the work that Bigelow and La Gaipa did is important as it is one of the first studies of children’s relationships and gave an insight into understanding the changing nature of friendship which has been achieved through the three-stage model of development in friendship expectations that was developed using content analysis a problem with Bigelow and La Gaipa’s research is that technological changes have brought an additional dimension to children’s friendships, while there will also be drawbacks dependant upon the research technique they used. Although Bigelow and la Gaipa’s research was useful in looking at children’s friendships, and will thus have a time and place in history, there are now new cycles of inquiry. Technology has brought us online friendships, with the use of the internet and social media altering the fundamental nature of some friendships. Priorities may also have changed by changes in society.