Fundamental principles of network formation among preschool children

David R. Schaefer, John M. Light, Richard Fabes, Laura Hanish, Carol Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


The goal of this research was to investigate the origins of social networks by examining the formation of children's peer relationships in 11 preschool classes throughout the school year. We investigated whether several fundamental processes of relationship formation were evident at this age, including reciprocity, popularity, and triadic closure effects. We expected these mechanisms to change in importance over time as the network crystallizes, allowing more complex structures to evolve from simpler ones in a process we refer to as structural cascading. We analyzed intensive longitudinal observational data of children's interactions using the SIENA actor-based model. We found evidence that reciprocity, popularity, and triadic closure all shaped the formation of preschool children's networks. The influence of reciprocity remained consistent, whereas popularity and triadic closure became increasingly important over the course of the school year. Interactions between age and endogenous network effects were non-significant, suggesting that these network formation processes were not moderated by age in this sample of young children. We discuss the implications of our longitudinal network approach and findings for the study of early network developmental processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-71
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Networks
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Network evolution
  • Network formation
  • Preschool children

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences
  • General Psychology


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