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Adolescents and adults at the mall: dyadic interactions.

The interpersonal in·ter·per·son·al  
1. Of or relating to the interactions between individuals: interpersonal skills.

 involvements of adolescents have always been of interest to developmentalists. Generally, adolescents have been observed to associate less frequently with adults than with peers (Berndt, 1982; Santrock, 1993). Often absent from previous research in this area has been a clear definition of interpersonal involvements. For example, examination of emotional support or companionship companionship

the faculty possessed by most truly domesticated animals. They are social creatures and have a great need for the companionship of other animals. Animals in groups are quieter and more productive as a rule.
 during adolescence adolescence, time of life from onset of puberty to full adulthood. The exact period of adolescence, which varies from person to person, falls approximately between the ages 12 and 20 and encompasses both physiological and psychological changes.  would require different strategies from examination of verbal or nonverbal non·ver·bal  
1. Being other than verbal; not involving words: nonverbal communication.

2. Involving little use of language: a nonverbal intelligence test.

Montemayor and Flannery (1989) found that interpersonal contacts during adolescence could be differentiated between adolescents and their age mates and between adolescents and their parents. Engagements were defined by Montemayor and Flannery as active expressions including touching, talking, and smiling. Their findings revealed that mothers of adolescents exhibited less smiling and touching with their children than did mothers with younger children. For adolescents and their age mates, expressive behaviors increased from early to middle adolescence for mixed-sex pairs, while age trends for same-sex pairs varied. These findings notwithstanding, previous research of adolescent engagements has not provided clear evidence of developmental patterns (Santrock, 1993). That is, do adolescents interact with others differently as a function of their gender, age, ethnicity ethnicity Vox populi Racial status–ie, African American, Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic , and context?

An important step in the ongoing investigation of interpersonal contacts during adolescence is incorporation of a theoretical framework that includes context as well as individual behaviors. Bronfenbrenner's (1979) ecological ecological

emanating from or pertaining to ecology.

ecological biome
see biome.

ecological climax
the state of balance in an ecosystem when its inhabitants have established their permanent relationships with each
 theory seems most suited for this purpose in that naturalistic nat·u·ral·is·tic  
1. Imitating or producing the effect or appearance of nature.

2. Of or in accordance with the doctrines of naturalism.
 settings are considered important in explaining human behavior in different contexts. For example, the mall has been an ecological context for examining a variety of adolescent behaviors including consumer purchasing (Anthony, 1985), emotional distancing (Montemayor & Flannery, 1989), social distancing (Burgess BURGESS. A magistrate of a borough; generally, the chief officer of the corporation, who performs, within the borough, the same kind of duties which a mayor does in a city. In England, the word is sometimes applied to all the inhabitants of a borough, who are called burgesses sometimes it , 1983), age segregation segregation: see apartheid; integration.  (Montemayor & Van Komen, 1980), and anomie anomie, a social condition characterized by instability, the breakdown of social norms, institutional disorganization, and a divorce between socially valid goals and available means for achieving them.  (Lewis, 1989).

In keeping with this model, a study of teens with other teens and teens with adults at the mall would provide naturally occurring interpersonal engagements. Besides home and school, teens spend more time at the mali than in any other setting (Kowinski, 1985). In the mall, like other community contexts, adolescents spend increasing amounts of time with each other (Czikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1984). For example, Anthony (1985) found that high school students at the mali were more often accompanied by one or more friends than by parents or other adults. These same adolescents gave shopping as the most common reason for going to the mali and cited being with other people as what they enjoyed most about the experience. Lewis (1989) observed that for some "core" kids, adolescents alienated al·ien·ate  
tr.v. al·ien·at·ed, al·ien·at·ing, al·ien·ates
1. To cause to become unfriendly or hostile; estrange: alienate a friend; alienate potential supporters by taking extreme positions.
 from family and school, the mali has become a haven where hours are spent each day with friends.

Attributes shared most often by friends, across all developmental periods of childhood, include age, gender, and ethnicity (Hartup, 1983). In addition, heightened sociability distinguishes friendship from non-friendship relations. Buhrmester (1990) found that adolescents in intimate relationships had higher self-esteem, were more social, less hostile, and less anxious than were those in less intimate relationships. Further, behavioral concordance between friends is more likely than between nonfriends (Kandel, 1978). For example, adolescents learn that they can improve their social acceptance by dressing and talking like their friends. With age, however, during the high school years, a steady shift from same-sex to opposite-sex companionship occurs (Czikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1984). The emphasis of earlier research in the area has been on teen-teen interactions. Comparisons of teen-teen dyads with adult-teen dyads are limited.

The purpose of this descriptive study was to examine differences in activities and interpersonal engagements between teen-teen dyads and teen-adult dyads in a naturalistic setting. Another purpose was to consider behavior vis-a-vis the gender, age, and sex of teens and adults. Based on earlier research and current thought about adolescent development, it was expected that adolescents would be observed more frequently with peers than with adults at the mall. Further, it was expected that behavioral patterns between teen-teen and teen-adult interactions would differ as a function of age, gender, and racial composition.



Subjects included 865 teen-teen dyads and 190 teen-adult dyads. Age, gender, and racial composition of dyads are listed in Table 1.


Observations were conducted in the central food court area of a large mali in a southeastern city during the spring. Three trained observers individually recorded dyadic Two. Refers to two components being used.

(programming) dyadic - binary (describing an operator).

Compare monadic.
 composition and activity for a total of 24 hours over a four-week period. Observations were conducted during after-school hours and on weekends.
Table 1. Descriptive Data for Teen/Teen and Teen/Adult Dyads

Variable         Teen/Teen Dyad    Teen/Adult Dyad

                   n        %         n        %

Age Group:

Middle School     63        7         54      30
High School       310       36        90      49
College           485       57        38      21


Male/Male         182       21        16      8
Female/Female     388       45        123     65
Male/Female       294       34        51      27


Black             205       25        28      16
Caucasian         606       73        156     84
Other             22        2         1       0

Observers recorded individual characteristics and behavioral information for each member of the dyad dyad /dy·ad/ (di´ad) a double chromosome resulting from the halving of a tetrad.

1. Two individuals or units regarded as a pair, such as a mother and a daughter.

. Individual characteristics included age (middle school, high school, college, adult), gender, and race (Caucasian, black, other). Behaviors noted were activity (e.g., walking, kissing), physical proximity ([less than] 3 ft., [greater than] 3 ft.), physical position (side/side, face/face, front/back), emotional expression (happy, sad, angry, neutral), and conversation (talk, no talk). Evidence of shopping (sack, no sack) was also recorded.

An observer sat at a table in the food court area until a dyad (teen-teen or teen-adult) was located. The observer watched a dyad for 30 seconds and then recorded data on a checklist for each member of the dyad. Observers had been trained by the primary investigator for five hours. Reliability was established by calculating the number of agreements divided by the number of agreements plus disagreements. Mall observations were initiated after an overall interrater reliability of 94% was achieved.


The primary purpose of this descriptive study was to investigate differences in interpersonal engagements between teen-teen dyads and teen-adult dyads in a mall setting. The total number of interactions of teens and adults recorded in a relatively short period of time speaks to the importance of this setting as a rich source of interactive data. Preliminary analyses revealed that, for the most part, adolescents were more engaged with other adolescents than they were with adults. The significantly larger number of teen-teen dyads (N = 857) in comparison to teen-adult dyads (N = 190) suggests that this setting is particularly attractive to adolescents for social gathering.

Dyadic interactions were examined by gender, race, and age. Specific results in relation to dyadic composition, gender, age, and race are presented below. (Refer to Table 1 for a demographic breakdown.) Chi-square analyses of the data were conducted for each behavioral variable.

Comparisons of Teen-Teen Dyads with Teen-Adult Dyads

Teen-teen dyads differed from teen-adult dyads on two of six behavioral variables. Teens were more likely to be engaged in two-way conversations with other teens (n = 519, 60%) than with adults (n = 79, 42%) and less likely to be engaged in one-way conversation with other teens (n = 228, 26%) than with adults (n = 77, 41%), [[Chi].sup.2] = 22.09, 2df, p [less than] .001. Teen-teen dyads also were distinguished from teen-adult dyads by evidence of shopping activity, carrying a sack, [[Xi].sup.2] = 26.13, 2df, p [less than] .001. Dyads with both members carrying a sack were almost equally represented in teen-teen (n = 124, 14%) and teen-adult dyads (n = 23, 12%). More teen-teen dyads had one person carrying a sack (n = 514, 60%) than did teen-adult dyads (n = 82, 43%). Alternately, more teen-adult dyads were without a sack (n = 85, 45%) than were teen-teen dyads (n = 22, 26%).

Within Dyad Comparisons

Gender. Table 2 presents percentages of behaviors by gender, between same-sex, and mixed-sex dyads. Chi-square analyses indicated that there were more teen-teen differences in selected variables than were evident for teen-adult dyads. Five of the six behavioral categories for teen-teen dyads were significant. These variables included activity ([[Chi].sup.2] = 43.49, 16df, p [less than] .001), emotion ([[Chi].sup.2] = 22.39, 5df, p [less than] .001), proximity ([[Chi].sup.2] = 4.59, 1df, p [less than] .03), conversation ([[Chi].sup.2] = 9.67, 2df, p [less than] .008), and evidence of shopping ([[Chi].sup.2] = 18.41, 2df, p [less than] .001). Only one behavior, namely conversation, was found to be significant for teen-adult dyads ([[Chi].sup.2] = 6.30, 2df, p [less than] .04).
Table 2. Gender Differences in Behavior for Teen/Teen and
Teen/Adult Dyads(*)

                         Teen/Teen Dyad       Teen/Adult Dyed

                        (n=569)   (n=294)   (n=138)     (n=51)
Behaviors              Same Sex   Mix Sex   Same Sex   Mix Sex


Sit/Stand                16         14        6          12
Walk                     74         70        77         75
Shop                     7          7         9          6
Eat                      2          3         7          0
Other                    1          6         1          10


Happy/Happy              28         27        14         12
Sad/Sad                  1          1         1          2
Neutral/Neutral          61         56        67         71
Happy/Neutral            9          12        11         14
Sad/Neutral              1          4         5          2
Angry/Neutral            1          0         2          0


[less than]3 Feet        89         94        93         92
[greater than]3 Feet     11          6         7          8


Talk/Talk                63         54        44         35
No/No                    25         28        43         35
Talk/No                  12         18        13         30


Face/Face                11         10         6          4
Front/Back               12          8        11         16
Side/Side                77         82        83         80


Sack/Sack                18         8         13         10
No Sack/No Sack          58         62        42         47
Sack/No Sack             24         31        45         43

* Reported as percentage of total subjects observed.

For teen-teen dyads, same-sex peers yielded higher percentages of walking, sitting, and standing behaviors with each other. These adolescent pairs were more often neutral in their affect, interacted less closely together ([greater than] 3 ft.), and were more often engaged in mutual conversation as they interacted in comparison to mixed-sex pairs. Same-sex pairs also showed more evidence of mutual shopping, both teens carrying a shopping bag, than did mixed-sex dyads.

Teen-adult dyads demonstrated a higher percentage of only one person talking if they were mixed-sex pairs. Same-sex dyads were more congruent con·gru·ent  
1. Corresponding; congruous.

2. Mathematics
a. Coinciding exactly when superimposed: congruent triangles.

 with both teen and adult either talking or not talking than were mixed-sex dyads.

Race. Table 3 presents data comparing teen-teen and teen-adult dyads by race. Again, teen-teen dyads revealed more differences than did teen-adult dyads. Significant differences were found for behaviors of emotion ([[Chi].sup.2] = 16.02, 5df, p [less than] .007, conversation ([[Chi].sup.2] = 7.66, 2df, p [less than] .02), and position ([[Chi].sup.2] = 7.19, 1df, p [less than] .03). Black adolescent dyads revealed less mutually positive affect and more mutually neutral affect during interactions than did Caucasian adolescent dyads. Both teens in Caucasian dyads were more likely to be talking and be face-to-face than were teens in black dyads. No significant racial differences were found for teen-adult dyads across selected behaviors.

Age. Lastly, comparisons of younger and older teens were made for teen-teen and teen-adult dyads (see Table 4). Only one significant age difference was found for teen-teen dyads ([[Chi].sup.2] = 16.17, 2df, p [less than] .002). Older teens tended to carry shopping bags more frequently than did younger teens. No significant differences in behaviors were found for teen-adult dyads. Apparently age of adolescent was not a critical variable in distinguishing behavioral patterns of teen-teen versus teen-adult dyads.


As expected, teens were found more often in the company of other teens than in the company of adults at the mall, reflecting the observation that adolescents associate less often with adults and more frequently with peers. This finding is consistent with previous research (Anthony, 1985; Berndt, 1982; Santrock, 1993) in that adolescents view the mali as a natural gathering place, not only for shopping, but for social contacts and interaction. And, as documented by others (e.g., Hartup, 1983), teen dyads were predominantly pre·dom·i·nant  
1. Having greatest ascendancy, importance, influence, authority, or force. See Synonyms at dominant.

 of the same gender, age, and ethnicity. Although the mall as a context for activity and interpersonal engagements appears, in general, to elicit e·lic·it  
tr.v. e·lic·it·ed, e·lic·it·ing, e·lic·its
a. To bring or draw out (something latent); educe.

b. To arrive at (a truth, for example) by logic.

 the same behaviors among teens with other teens and teens with adults, both gender and race also appear to exert strong influences on the interactions of teen-teen dyads.
Table 3. Racial Differences in Behavior of Teen/Teen and
Teen/Adult Dyads(*)

                       Teen/Teen Dyad    Teen/Adult Dyad

                       (201)    (602)     (26)    (149)
Behaviors              Black    Cauc.    Black    Cauc.


Sit/Stand              11        16        8       12
Walk                   79        69        85      75
Shop                   6         7         0       9
Eat                    1         1         4       1
Other                  3         7         3       3


Happy/Happy            19        31        8       15
Sad/Sad                0         0         0       1
Neutral/Neutral        70        56        74      65
Happy/Neutral          9         11        0       13
Sad/Neutral            1         2         8       4
Angry/Neutral          1         0         0       2


[less than]3 Feet      90        91        96      92
[greater than]3 Feet   10        9         4       8


Talk/Talk              53        62        23      45
No/No                  34        24        62      38
Talk/No                13        14        15      17


Face/Face              6         12        4       7
Front/Back             14        10        15      11
Side/Side              80        78        81      82


Sack/Sack              17        13        8       12
No Sack/No Sack        58        60        61      39
Sack/No Sack           25        27        31      49

* Reported as percentage of total subjects observed


It is clear that teens have embraced the ethnic of the mali as an arena for shopping and visiting, as observed by Kowinski (1985). In this study, observers noted that teen-teen dyads carried more shopping bags than did teen-adult dyads, despite the assumption that the only reason teens go to the mall in the company of an adult is to shop. Further, teens were more likely to be engaged in conversation with another teen, as compared to an adult, in a pattern similar to that observed by Montemayor and Flannery (1989). Indeed, one index of adolescent disengagement disengagement /dis·en·gage·ment/ (dis?en-gaj´ment) emergence of the fetus from the vaginal canal.

 from adults may be diminished conversation, not only in the mall, but in other social contexts.

That there was little difference in behavior between middle school, high school, and college-age dyads may be a reflection of the circumscribed circumscribed /cir·cum·scribed/ (serk´um-skribd) bounded or limited; confined to a limited space.

Bounded by a line; limited or confined.
 roles that actually can be played at the mall. By and large, walking, talking, shopping, and eating appear to be what all teen pairs have been socialized so·cial·ize  
v. so·cial·ized, so·cial·iz·ing, so·cial·iz·es
1. To place under government or group ownership or control.

2. To make fit for companionship with others; make sociable.
 to do. Older teens' more frequent shopping evidence simply confirms their greater financial resources and reflects their greater independence opportunities. It is possible that the differences in age findings, for affect, as expressed by smiling, and talk, between this study and that of Montemayor and Flannery (1989) may be attributable to differences in the scoring of dyadic behavioral expressions.

Sex differences among teen dyads appear to reflect varying agendas of same-sex dyads versus mixed-sex dyads. Same-sex dyads were more often walking, engaging in two-way conversation, displaying mutual neutral affect, and carrying packages, while teens in mixed-sex dyads were positioned in closer physical proximity to each other. Buhrmester (1990) noted that adolescent friendships become increasingly intimate based on mutual understanding, disclosure, empathy empathy

Ability to imagine oneself in another's place and understand the other's feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. The empathic actor or singer is one who genuinely feels the part he or she is performing.
, and trust. Moreover, making and keeping friends in adolescence involves close relationship competencies, including conversational skills and providing emotional support. Sex differences found in this study may suggest greater social competence among same-sex dyads, especially females, man do mixed-sex dyads.

Racial differences between teen dyads reflected in Caucasian teen-teen dyads, including greater mutual positive affect, more frequent conversation, and face-to-face positioning, than in black teen-teen dyads may be tied to different socialization socialization /so·cial·iza·tion/ (so?shal-i-za´shun) the process by which society integrates the individual and the individual learns to behave in socially acceptable ways.

 experiences and different interactive agendas. Given that this is the only mall study in which a racially diverse sample is reported, without additional controlled studies, it is difficult to determine whether differences are due to individual characteristics, environmental factors peculiar to this setting, or observer bias.

Conducting observations of adolescents in naturalistic settings provides more insight into the social behaviors of developing youth. While it is possible that the behaviors observed reflect other individual motives (Montemayor & Flannery, 1989), in the absence of such phenomenological understanding, we expect that these observations reflect social competency and social interests of adolescents. Although unobtrusively un·ob·tru·sive  
Not undesirably noticeable or blatant; inconspicuous.

 observing people as they interact in naturalistic settings results in some loss of control of intervening variables, ecological validity
For the ecological validity of a cue in perception, see ecological validity (perception).
Ecological validity is a form of validity in an experiment.
 is greatly enhanced (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) and credibility is added to the findings. Moreover, descriptive behaviors noted in this study are consistent with other research (e.g., Santrock, 1993) employing different methodologies.


Anthony, K. H. (1985). The shopping mall: A teenage hangout hang·out  
n. Slang
A frequently visited place.

Noun 1. hangout - a frequently visited place
haunt, stamping ground, resort, repair
. Adolescence, 20(78), 307-312.

Berndt, T. J. (1982). The features and effects of friendship in early adolescence. Child Development, 53, 1447-1470.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology ecology, study of the relationships of organisms to their physical environment and to one another. The study of an individual organism or a single species is termed autecology; the study of groups of organisms is called synecology.  of human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press The Harvard University Press is a publishing house, a division of Harvard University, that is highly respected in academic publishing. It was established on January 13, 1913. In 2005, it published 220 new titles. .

Burgess, J. W. (1983). Developmental trends in proxemic spacing behavior between surrounding companions and strangers in casual groups. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 7(3), 158-169.

Buhrmester, D. (1990). Intimacy of friendship, interpersonal competence, and adjustment during preadolescence and adolescence. Child Development, 61, 1101-1111.

Czikszentmihalyi, M., & Larson, R. (1984). Being adolescent. New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
: Basic Books.

Hartup, W. W. (1983). Peer relations. In P. H. Mussen (Ed.), Carmichael's manual of child psychology (4th ed.), (pp. 103-196). New York: Wiley.

Kandel, D. B. (1978). Similarity in real-life adolescent friendship pairs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (often referred to as JPSP) is a monthly psychology journal of the American Psychological Association. It is considered one of the top journals in the fields of social and personality psychology. , 36, 306-312.

Kowinski, W. S. (1985). The malling Malling may refer to:
  • Malling Rural Sanitary District, Kent, England - (1875 - 1894)
  • East Malling and West Malling, two villages in the above RSD
  • Malling, Moselle, France
  • Malling, Denmark
  • Heinrich August Malling (1807-1893), a Danish statesman and novelist.
 of America: An inside look at the great consumer paradise. New York: Morrow mor·row  
1. The following day: resolved to set out on the morrow.

2. The time immediately subsequent to a particular event.

3. Archaic The morning.

Lewis, G. H. (1989). Rats and bunnies: Core kids in an American mall. Adolescence, 24(96), 881-889.

Montemayor, R., & Flannery, D. J. (1989). A naturalistic study of the involvement of children and adolescents with their mothers and friends: Developmental differences in expressive behavior. Journal of Adolescent Research, 4, 4-14.

Montemayor, R., & Van Komen, R. (1980). Age segregation of adolescents in and out of school. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 9(5), 371-381.

Santrock, J. W. (1993). Adolescence. Madison, WI: Brown and Benchmark.

Ronald L. Mullis, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Child Sciences, College of Human Sciences, Florida State University Florida State University, at Tallahassee; coeducational; chartered 1851, opened 1857. Present name was adopted in 1947. Special research facilities include those in nuclear science and oceanography. .
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Author:Readdick, Christine A.; Mullis, Ronald L.
Date:Jun 22, 1997
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