The Influence of Pragmatic Competence on the Likeability of Grade-School Children

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Previous research and theory suggest that effective use of specific pragmatic behaviors is important to social competence in children. The present study is the first attempt to examine the impact four pragmatic skills have on likeability using experimental methodology. Ninety‐one popular and less popular 10‐year‐old girls listened to one of five audiotaped scenarios in which a girl used four different pragmatic skills (requesting, turn‐taking, responding promptly when spoken to, and maintaining the logic of the conversation) either appropriately or inappropriately in a conversation with a school librarian. Subjects rated how much they would like to play with the girl and also described her in terms of attractiveness, school ability, and popularity. Subjects saw the girl as more likeable when she displayed pragmatic competence than when she requested inappropriately, F(1, 33) = 47.86, p<.001; interrupted, F(1, 33) = 13.56, p<.001; and failed to maintain the logic of the conversation, F(1, 31) = 5.90, p<.05. They also described her more positively when she displayed pragmatic competence. Subjects’ responses did not vary as a function of their own popularity level. These results demonstrate the importance of pragmatic skills for popularity and the paradigm offers a methodology for identifying pragmatic skills of relevance to various populations.

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Discourse Processes, v. 14, issue 2, p. 227-241