Socially withdrawn children are less likely to have friends and when they do have friends, to have fewer than their peers and to lose friendships over time, says study conducted by Arizona State University researchers.
Socially withdrawn children are believed to experience competing motivations-they want to interact with peers, but the prospect of doing so causes anxiety that interferes with such interactions.
In contrast, unsociable children are seen as having what's called low approach and low avoidance motives-that is, they have little desire to interact with peers but aren't repelled by the prospect of doing so; for these children, the overtures of peers don't make them feel anxious.
Compared with unsociable withdrawn youths and those who aren't withdrawn, anxious-solitary children were found to be more emotionally sensitive and more likely to be excluded and victimized by their peers.
The researchers suggest that peer interaction is harder for anxious-solitary children because their anxiety interferes with their ability to form and maintain friendships.
In contrast, unsociable youths tend to have more friends and to maintain those ties over time.
The study also found that having stable friendships protects children from being victimized by peers-and that both withdrawn and non-withdrawn children benefit from friendships in this way.
"Understanding withdrawn children's friendships is important because they have fewer contacts with children their own age," according to Gary Ladd, Cowden Distinguished Professor of Family and Human Development at Arizona State University, who led the study.
"Because the consequences of peer isolation can be severe, it may be particularly important for withdrawn youth to develop and participate in friendships through organized sports, play dates, and other such activities."