The social nature of early conflict

Child Dev. 1982 Feb;53(1):105-13.


The conflicts of 24 pairs of previously unacquainted 21-month-old children were examined for social hallmarks at several levels of analysis. Each child was observed with the same partner for 15 min on 3 consecutive days. On the fourth day half the dyads were rearranged such that each child now was paired with a new partner; the remaining children returned to meet their usual partners. Conflicts were defined dyadically as 1 child's protesting, resisting, or retaliating against an act by the peer; 217 were recorded across the 4 days, 84% of which were struggles over toys. The disputes possessed a patterned interactive structure and explicit communicative content, and 75% of the object struggles were preceded or followed by socially pertinent events. The extent of conflict neither increased nor decreased over days, nor were there reliable differences between acquainted peers on the fourth day. However, the outcome of 1 conflict affected the next; a child who lost a dispute was more likely than the winner to initiate the next. Moreover, the findings suggested that dyadic as well as dispositional factors influenced conflictual behavior; the children's tendency to initiate disputes on the fourth day could be predicted from their initiations on the first 3 days for both groups, but prediction of their tendency to yield to the peer's demands for objects was only possible for the group who retained the same partners.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression*
  • Communication
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Peer Group
  • Play and Playthings
  • Temperament