Social Network Dynamics and Social Development among Preschoolers (2020-2021)


A growing body of research indicates that early environmental experiences during the first five years of life significantly shape an individual’s risk or resilience to a number of potentially negative mental and physical outcomes. Based on this research, as well as studies supporting the first five years of life as a rapid period of development for social skills and brain function, it is crucial to investigate how children develop an understanding of being with and cooperating with others.

To date, however, there has been a paucity of data available to inform the complex interactions between early life experience, social context and individual differences that place an individual at greater or lesser risk for poor social outcomes – such as isolation, bullying and aggression – over time. And, unfortunately, the salience of this knowledge gap continues to grow with the increasing number of interpersonal acts of violence occurring in schools.

Project Description

This project team will build on efforts to collect and analyze streaming social network data from video evidence using at least four classrooms in a local preschool. The project is expected to expand over time to include additional classrooms in a second local preschool location. It is part of a multiyear effort that will build in additional data sources, including brain development as it relates to social network development.

The ultimate goal of this project is to begin collecting data that can help illuminate how sociality and social cohesion develop among young children, and what role interactions with peers and teachers in the preschool environment (classrooms and free time) play in learning how to be social.

The team will demonstrate the feasibility of collecting multiple, short video-recorded segments of child play and learning activities within a preschool setting across multiple days within a week and multiple weeks within a year. Team members will develop and evaluate coding schemes capable of providing high-resolution data about individual and group interactions between children and teachers from collected video segments, and evaluate the amount of data needed to establish stable measurements of social networks across specific time periods. They will also use complex social network analyses to quantify the dynamic properties of child social networks within a classroom, and use complimentary sources of data to identify individual factors such as sex and age that may influence and/or interact with social network measures.

Anticipated Outputs

Social network dataset on four preschool classes with children; journal publications; theses and dissertations


Summer 2020 – Spring 2021

  • Summer 2020 (optional): Begin work on coding schema
  • Fall 2020: Finalize coding schema; check quality of data derived
  • Spring 2021: Finalize results

See related team, Social Network Dynamics and Social Development among Preschoolers (2021-2022).


Image: Preschool programs, by Seattle Parks, licensed under CC BY 2.0


Team Leaders

  • Michael Gaffrey, Arts & Sciences-Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Craig Rawlings, Arts & Sciences-Sociology
  • Thomas Wolff, Trinity - Sociology-PhD Student

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Elena Gray, Interdept CompSci/Psych (AB)
  • Jonah Perrin
  • Emily Raich
  • Mihika Rajvanshi
  • Ashwin Subramaniam, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Carrie Wang, Statistical Science (BS)

/zcommunity Team Members

  • The Little School of Hillsborough
  • The Little School of Duke