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Relationships among teacher support, peer conflict resolution, and school emotional experiences in adolescents from Shanghai.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) was developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). PISA surveys are undertaken every three years in countries around the world, to assess reading, mathematics, and science achievement among national samples of 15-year-olds, and to gather information from the principals of the schools that students attend (OECD, 2010, 2013a, 2013b). In the 2009 PISA tests (OECD, 2010, 2013a), 15-year-old secondary school students in Shanghai achieved the best results by far since the year 2000, scoring 556 in reading, 600 in mathematics, and 575 in science. Although the cognitive development of teenagers in Shanghai is thus exceptional in international studies, the level of their emotional and behavioral development remains unclear. Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy, and is a principal goal of the human experience (Diener, 2000; Parks, Della Porta, Pierce, Zilca, & Lyubomirsky, 2012). Happiness reportedly contributes to physical and psychological health and has been shown to coexist with success (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005; Stiglbauer, Gnambs, Gamsjager, & Batinic, 2013). Happiness can increase an individual's perceptions of their strengths and virtues, creating, in turn, more success and happiness for himself/herself (Fredrickson, 2001).

Previous researchers (e.g., Cauce & Srebnik, 1990; Chu, Saucier, & Hafner, 2010) have reported three main factors in the happiness of children and adolescents: family, school, and peers. Family support, teachers, and school support, as well as student-student support construct the social climate that satisfies the human need for relatedness. Support for this interpretation is derived from self-determination theory, in which it is stated that individuals have three fundamental developmental needs--relatedness, competence, and autonomy--and that the satisfaction of these needs is essential for an individual's psychological growth and well-being (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000; Reeve, 2004; Ryan & Deci, 2000). Typically, individuals seek to satisfy these needs through interaction with their environment. Thus, if students feel meaningfully connected to, and accepted by, teachers and classmates--that is, if they have supportive relationships with others at school--their need for relatedness will be satisfied.

Similarly, in the school setting both teacher-student and student-student relationships create the school interpersonal climate. Students' perceptions of the school environment and its impact on their psychosocial and academic adjustment have received increasing attention in recent years (Jia et al., 2009). Teacher-student and peer or student-student relationships have been widely researched (Allen, Porter, McFarland, McElhaney, & Marsh, 2007; Baker, Grant, & Morlock, 2008; Bru, Murberg, & Stephens, 2001; Murdock & Bolch, 2005) as an important factor in conflict among students, which is a frequent occurrence in schools (Johnson & Johnson, 1996). Conflict is a problem situation for student-student relationships and is significant as the resolution of peer conflict affects adolescent happiness, communication satisfaction, and other emotional experiences. Few researchers have focused on this topic, so we proposed the first hypothesis regarding how different conflict resolution strategies impact emotional experiences. We proposed that peer conflict resolution, such as human problem solving, and different resolution behaviors could bring about different emotional experiences.

Positive affects facilitate creative problem solving (Isen, Daubman, & Nowicki, 1987). When a positive experience also causes positive emotions this is in contrast to successful problem solving when a positive experience also causes positive emotions. Lazarus and Folkman (1984) suggested that there are two types of coping responses: emotion focused and problem focused. Problem-focused coping, for example, seeking social support and taking action to try to get rid of the problem, is used to target the causes of stress in a practical way and tackle the problem or stressful situation, thereby directly reducing the stress. Generally speaking, problem-focused coping is very effective as it removes the stressor by dealing with the root cause of the problem and providing a long-term solution. Zhang, Chang, Zhang, Greenberger, and Chen (2011) suggested that mental health problems were inversely related to problem solving as a coping strategy, but positively related to venting and fantasizing.

Previous researchers have demonstrated that the orientation of middle school faculties toward the intervention in social conflicts among students is an important factor, particularly when conflicts become violent (Shanklin, Brener, McManus, Kinchen, & Kann, 2007). With little support from teachers in managing conflict, middle school students often rely on their own and/or peer conflict resolution skills and orientations (O'Connell, Pepler, & Craig, 1999). Based on this, we hypothesized that teacher support would have a positive impact on student conflict resolution behaviors.

In this study, we examined conflict resolution behaviors of students and their reports of emotional experiences. We predicted that adolescents who engage in cooperative (reciprocal) and collaborative (mutual problem solving) conflict resolution strategies would report greater happiness, satisfaction, and less negative emotions than would students who did not use these strategies. Finally, we examined how teacher support affects student conflict resolution. We also predicted that teacher support would benefit adolescents by bringing about more effective conflict resolution.

Conflict resolution has been found to be associated with adolescent psychosocial adjustment. Conflict engagement of adolescents, characterized by physical and/ or verbal attacks and displays of anger, seems to be positively related to both externalizing (Edwards, Barkley, Laneri, Fletcher, & Metevia, 2001; Jaffee & D'Zurilla, 2003; Rubenstein & Feldman, 1993; Sanders, Dadds, Johnston, & Cash, 1992) and internalizing problems (Rubenstein & Feldman, 1993). Withdrawal or avoidance has also been associated with both externalizing (Jaffee & D'Zurilla, 2003) and internalizing problems (Rubenstein & Feldman, 1993). In contrast, positive problem solving (Tucker, McHale, & Crouter, 2003) and compromise (Rubenstein & Feldman, 1993) have been found to be related to fewer externalizing and internalizing problems. We examined whether or not there was a link between adolescent emotional experiences in school and the type of conflict resolution behavior that they used. More specifically, we asked whether or not different types of adolescents with distinctive conflict resolution patterns show different emotional responses and experiences. We, therefore, developed the following research questions:

1) Does adolescent conflict resolution behavior impact emotional experience in school?

2) Does teacher support affect student conflict resolution behaviors?

3) Are there gender and grade differences in the various school emotional experiences?



The participants were 2,782 middle-school students (1,417 male, 1,359 female, 6 students who did not report their gender) from 12 schools in Shanghai, China, who took part in this study voluntarily. The grade distribution of the participants was as follows: 7th grade, n = 654 (23.5%); 8th grade, n = 631 (22.7%); 9th grade, n = 277 (10.0%); 10th grade, n = 466 (16.8%); 11th grade, n = 586 (21.1%); and 12th grade, n = 168 (6.0%). All participants were between 13 and 19 years of age (M = 15.07, SD = 1.30).


We adopted the High School Students' School Living Experiences Questionnaire, developed by the Assessment Research Center (ARC; Hong Kong Educational Institution, 2010), for use in this study.

School Climate Scale. This scale consists of three dimensions: teacher support, effective peer conflict resolution, and negative peer conflict resolution. The teacher support subscale includes four items: "When I am in school, I feel that: a) Teachers treat me fairly; b) Teachers are willing to help me; c) Teachers are willing to listen to me; or d) Teachers instruct me patiently." The effective peer conflict resolution subscale includes three items: "When I am in conflict with a classmate, I behave the following way: a) Stay calm and negotiate with them; b) Initiate accession and make others happy; or c) Change discussion topics." The negative peer conflict resolution subscale includes three items: "When I am in a conflict with a classmate, I behave the following way: a) No action; b) Blame others; or c) Threaten my classmates."

Responses are rated on a 4-point Likert scale, from 1 (totally disagree) to 4 (totally agree). The reliabilities of the three subscales, respectively, were: 0.88, 0.85, and 0.90. Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) of the School Climate Scale demonstrated a good level of fit, supporting the hypothesized constructs of the scale.

High School Students' School Emotional Experience Scale. This scale consists of three dimensions: happiness, communication satisfaction, and negative emotional experiences. The happiness subscale consists of four items: "When I am in school, I feel: a) Happy; b) A sense of accomplishment; c) Safe; or d) I am being cared for." The communication satisfaction subscale is used to measure the quality of communication in school, and consists of three items: "When I am in school, I communicate with and feel from 1 = very dissatisfied with to 4 = very satisfied with: a) Friends; b) Classmates; and c) Teachers." The negative emotional experiences subscale includes three items: "When I am in school, I feel: a) Bored; b) As if every day is as long as a year; or c) Frustrated."

The happiness and negative emotion experiences subscale response options range from 1 (totally disagree) to 4 (totally agree). The reliabilities of the three subscales, respectively, are .87, .90, and .88. Results of the CFA revealed that the structure of the School Emotion Experiences Scale is very good, thus supporting the hypothesized constructs of the scale.


Descriptive Results

The majority of high school students gave positive reports with regard to teacher support: "When I am in school, I feel that: a) my teachers treat me fairly (86.1%), b) my teachers are willing to help me (88%), c) my teachers are willing to listen to me (74.2%), and d) my teachers instruct me patiently (87.7%)." The majority (76.4%) of participants reported negotiating the resolution of peer conflict, with 20% of students "doing nothing" and 10% of students resorting to "aggressive behaviors." In this study, 76% of participants rated their general happiness in a positive way and 24.8% reported that a day at school felt as if it was as long as a year. Participants also reported communication satisfaction with friends (90.4%), classmates (89.4%), and teachers (80.7%).

Gender differences in perceived school climate and emotional experiences. In peer conflict resolution behaviors, males resorted to more negative conflict resolution than females did (t = 4.751, p < .001; see Table 1); whereas females tended toward more effective conflict resolution than males did (t = 1.66, p < .10). With regard to communication satisfaction in the school context, females reported higher levels compared to males (t = 1.77, p < .08).

Grade differences in perceived school climate and emotional experiences. Significant grade differences were found (p < .01; see Table 2) in all dimensions of school climate and emotion. In terms of perceived school climate and emotion experiences, the 9th graders obtained the lowest scores for nearly all positive dimensions, including perceived teacher support, happiness, and school communication satisfaction; and the 9th graders also obtained the highest scores for all negative dimensions, including negative peer conflict resolution and negative emotion in the school context.

In contrast to the 9th graders, the 7th graders obtained the highest scores for nearly all of the positive dimensions, including perceived teacher support, happiness, and school communication satisfaction, and the 7th graders obtained the lowest scores for all of the negative dimensions, including negative peer conflict resolution and negative emotion in the school context. Those in the 12th grade obtained the highest scores for effective peer conflict resolution.

The relationship between perceived school climate and emotional experiences. To describe the relationship between perceived school climate and emotional experiences, we adopted a structural equal model (SEM). Decisions concerning model fit of these data were based on four fit indices: the [chi square] fit index, comparative fit index (CFI), goodness of fit index (GFI), and root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA). In SEM literature it is suggested that model fit is excellent when the coefficient for CFI and GFI is greater than .95, and model fit for both is deemed adequate if the coefficient is greater than .90 (Joreskog & Sorbom, 1993). For the RMSEA, a coefficient less than .05 indicates an excellent fit and a coefficient under .08 indicates an acceptable fit (Kline, 1998). First, we built the full model. Model 1 contained all paths between the six variables so that all structural paths depicted in this conceptual model were included at the first stage of the analyses. Model 1 was determined to have a good level of fit as most of the paths were statistically significant; there were nonsignificant paths between negative peer conflict solution and happiness, between happiness and satisfaction, and between teacher support and negative emotions. In Models 2, 3, and 4, respectively, we deleted the least significant path. Model 4 was determined to have a good level of fit and all paths were statistically significant. We, therefore, decided that Model 4 was the best model. The fit indices for all four models are shown in Table 3. Model 4, for the relationship between perceived school climate and emotional experiences, is shown in Figure 1.

In Model 4, 39.7% of the variance in happiness, 27.4% of the variance in communication satisfaction, and 11.7% of the variance in negative

emotion are explained. Teacher support is correlated positively with effective peer conflict resolution (r = 0.39, t = 15.22,p < .01), and negatively with negative peer conflict resolution (r = -0.53, t = -19.34, p < .01), and effective resolution is correlated negatively with negative peer conflict solution (r = -0.21, t = -8.865, p < .01). Teacher support has a positive facilitating effect on happiness ([beta] = 0.54, t = 21.91, p < .01) and satisfaction ([beta] = 0.49, t = 13.95, p < .01). Effective peer conflict resolution has a positive facilitating effect on happiness ([beta] = 0.13, t = 6.25, p < .01) and satisfaction ([beta] = 0.09, t = 3.43, p < .01), and also reduces negative emotion ([beta] = -0.11, t = -4.68, p < .01). Negative peer conflict resolution lowers communicating satisfaction ([beta] = -0.13, t = -4.23, p < .01) and increases negative emotion ([beta] = 0.30, t = 11.50, p < .01). Negative emotion lowers happiness ([beta] = -0.10, t = -4.95, p < .01) and satisfaction ([beta] = -0.15, t = -5.25, p < .01).


In our opinion, the demographic analyses provided rather intuitive suggestions. Females reported lower levels of negative peer conflict resolution behaviors than did males. This result is consistent with those in past research, for example, females reported lower levels of health risk behaviors (LaRusso & Selman, 2011) and bullying behaviors than did males (Zhang, Gu, Wang, Wang, & Jones, 2000). Delveaux and Daniels (2000) found significant differences between the two genders in relation to communication goals and conflict-solving strategies. Generally, the goal of communication for females is to maintain good peer relationships (Delveaux & Daniels, 2000), whereas for the males using communication to control others was their main goal.

From the findings in this study, we identified that negotiation is prevalent among adolescents; 76.9% of adolescents attempted negotiation in peer conflict resolution, such as "negotiating with each other in a calm mood". Students emphasized communicating and listening, and discouraged violence and retaliation, indicating that most Shanghai adolescents appear to have developed good strategies for building successful peer relationships. However, 9.9% of participants tended to resolve peer conflict by coercion, such as "doing something to scare others". Our findings demonstrate that effective peer conflict resolution increased through the teenage years, reaching its highest point in the 12th grade. This result demonstrates that students mature as they age. Laursen, Finkelstein, and Betts (2001) found that as one matures, negotiation increases and coercion declines within most peer relationships. Differing patterns of conflict resolution during adolescence tend to result in the same relative strategies during young adulthood.

According to our findings, the school context, happiness, communication satisfaction, and perceived teacher support decrease during junior high school and reach their lowest point by the 9th grade, before showing a small recovery during high school. Conversely, negative emotional experiences increase during junior high school and reach the highest point by the 9th grade, before showing a small recovery during high school. Reported happiness decreases during the teenage years, with previously documented recovery occurring around the age of 18 years (Csikszentmihalyi & Hunter, 2003; Moneta, Schneider, & Csikszentmihalyi, 2001). However, our results are not totally consistent with those of other researchers in China, who have found that all positive emotions, such as happiness and satisfaction, decreased from the 7th to the 12th grades and reached their lowest point in the 12th grade in regions other than Shanghai in China (Lu et al., 2009; Tian & Gilman, 2009; Wang, Chang, & Liang, 2008). This may be as a result of China's GaoKao (college entrance examinations), which cause students to feel extreme pressure to do well. In Shanghai, the situation is different and unique. In response to examination pressure on students, some Shanghai universities are deemphasizing examination results, and basing more of their admissions process on other criteria such as overall student performance. The combination of Shanghai's rigorous education system and increased options for applying to university mean that 80% of Shanghai students go on to university, compared to 24% in the rest of China (Singmaster, 2013). Our results suggest that educators should pay more attention to students in the 9th grade. For these students, working hard to qualify for admission to a key senior high school is the basic guarantee for success in GaoKao. In approaching the senior high school entrance examination, the 9th grade students will certainly experience fewer positive emotions.

Our findings in this research reveal that teacher support is very strongly associated with positive emotional experiences (happiness and satisfaction). The empirical evidence generally shows a positive relationship between support provided both by the school personnel and teachers, and well-being among children and adolescents (Bru et al., 2001; Murdock & Bolch, 2005). Cauce and Srebnik (1990) identified three main sources of support for children and adolescents: family, friends, and school personnel. Chu et al. (2010) conducted a meta-analysis, the results of which suggest that support from teachers and school personnel is the factor most strongly associated with well-being. This is in line with our findings. In the present study, over 80% of participants gave very positive reports of teacher support. This result demonstrates the high quality of teachers in Shanghai and the success of its teacher professional development programs. To support new education changes, certification processes for teachers were implemented in 2008. Teacher professional development requirements also increased; teachers in Shanghai must now complete 240 hours of professional development within each five-year period (Asia Society, 2013).

In this study, we found that teacher support also affects student conflict resolution and directly facilitates student well-being. Our data suggest that teacher support can increase effective conflict resolution behaviors and decrease negative conflict resolution behaviors in high school students in Shanghai. The significance of teacher support in student conflict resolution climate quality aligns with the findings in previous research (LaRusso & Selman, 2011), where it was demonstrated that conflict resolution climate quality was associated with how well teachers were perceived to respond to student conflict. Help and support from teachers improves a student's sense of safety; teachers should respond consistently and effectively to conflict and social problems among students. In a supportive climate, teachers respond promptly and consistently to conflict, often taking the time to listen to both sides and help students work through interpersonal conflicts. Shanklin et al. (2007) also noted that the orientation of middle school faculties toward intervening in social conflicts among students is an important factor, particularly when conflict becomes violent.

In conclusion, effective peer conflict resolution is significant as it has a positive facilitating effect on happiness and communication satisfaction, and reduces negative emotion. In contrast to effective peer conflict resolution, negative peer conflict resolution was found to increase negative emotional experiences and decrease satisfaction. Newcomb, Bukowski, and Pattee (1993) reported that adolescents lacking the ability to resolve peer conflict constructively were at risk for maladjustment and social rejection. LaRusso and Selman (2011) found that adolescents who reported using more cooperative strategies and fewer aggressive conflict resolution strategies also reported engaging in fewer personal health risk behaviors. Our findings in this research suggest that conflict resolution and peer mediation training are of significant value, as is training individuals to resolve interpersonal disputes through techniques of negotiation and mediation, learning to manage anger, solve conflicts calmly and rationally rather than by fighting, and improve communication through skills such as listening, turn-taking, identifying needs, and separating facts from emotion. Johnson and Johnson (1996) described how conflict resolution and peer mediation programs are effective in teaching students integrative negotiation and mediation procedures, and generally lead to constructive outcomes and improvement of ongoing relationships.

Our findings also showed how negative emotions reduce adolescent happiness and satisfaction, which can be explained by Fredrickson's (2001) broaden-and-build theory. According to this theory, positive emotions such as joy, interest, or contentment broaden a person's thought-action repertoire, whereas negative emotions narrow the range of percepts, thoughts, and actions presently in mind. Thus, in contrast to negative emotions, positive emotions trigger an upward spiral towards well-being over time (Cohn, Fredrickson, Brown, Mikels, & Conway, 2009). Our findings in this study suggest that positive emotion is a favorable factor but, over time, negative emotion is disadvantageous to student well-being. Thus, the goal of educators should be to increase student happiness and reduce negative emotion. In the present study, 24.8% of students felt that each day at school seemed like a year, thus demonstrating an extremely negative emotion. An estimated 80% of students attend night and weekend cram schools (where instruction is given by rote learning) to ensure that they pass. These cram classes are in addition to nightly homework and extracurricular activities, making the life of a Chinese student overwhelming in terms of workload. The Central Chinese Government is aware of this national problem and in new 2020 reform efforts they call for a reduction in student workload. In Shanghai, additional work is being undertaken to improve the student education experience (Asia Society, 2013).

In general, results in this study indicate that schools should raise the quality of teacher support for students, train students to peacefully resolve conflict and release negative emotion, and create environments conducive to happiness.

Although we believe there are many strengths in this study, including a high baseline response rate, a large and diverse sample of adolescents in Shanghai, and varied methods of statistical analysis there is a limitation, in that all data in relation to school climate and emotional experiences were collected from the students via self-reported questionnaires, and the rich source of teachers and classmates was not considered. Future researchers, therefore, should examine other aspects of schools' social environments to help explain how further exploration of adolescents' personal behavior and feelings toward teachers may give rise to more positive emotional experiences.


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Li-Jun Wang

Zhejiang Normal University

Wen-Chung Wang

Hong Kong Institute of Education

Hai-Gen Gu

Shanghai Normal University

Pei-Da Zhan and Xin-Xiao Yang

Zhejiang Normal University

Julian Barnard

JB Associates, Warwick, United Kingdom

Li-Jun Wang, Department of Psychology, College of Teacher Education, Zhejiang Normal University; Wen-Chung Wang, Department of Psychological Studies, Hong Kong Institute of Education; Hai-Gen Gu, Department of Psychology, College of Education, Shanghai Normal University; Pei-Da Zhan, Department of Psychology, and Xin-Xiao Yang, Department of Education, College of Teacher Education, Zhejiang Normal University; Julian Barnard, Education Consultant, JB Associates, Warwick, United Kingdom.

This research was supported by The Philosophy and Social Science Major Research Project Fund of the Chinese Ministry of Education in 2013 (13JZD048).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Hai-Gen Gu, Department of Psychology, College of Education, Shanghai Normal University, No. 100 Guilin Road, Shanghai 200234, People's Republic of China. Email:

Table 1. Perceived School Climate and Emotional Experiences by Gender

         Teacher       Effective conflict   Negative      Happiness
         support       resolution

Male     3.06 (0.63)   2.63 (0.61)          1.77 (0.62)   2.78 (0.67)
Female   3.06 (0.58)   2.67 (0.53)          1.67 (0.54)   2.80 (0.58)
T        0.105         1.66                 4.75 **       0.64

         Satisfaction   Negative

Male     3.27 (0.56)    2.13 (0.75)
Female   3.31 (0.52)    2.12 (0.67)
T        1.77           0.36

Note. * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.

Table 2. Perceived School Climate and Emotional Experiences by Grade

             Teacher     Effective conflict    Negative      Happiness
             support         resolution

Grade 7    3.23 (0.60)   2.61 (0.59)          1.64 (0.56)   2.99 (0.61)
Grade 8    3.07 (0.63)   2.72 (0.61)          1.75 (0.64)   2.85 (0.63)
Grade 9    2.94 (0.56)   2.59 (0.57)          1.78 (0.59)   2.60 (0.60)
Grade 10   3.01 (0.54)   2.58 (0.56)          1.74 (0.53)   2.69 (0.57)
Grade 11   2.98 (0.62)   2.67 (0.56)          1.76 (0.60)   2.67 (0.67)
Grade 12   3.06 (0.55)   2.78 (0.50)          1.69 (0.56)   2.79 (0.56)
F          15.53 ***     6.43 ***             4.36 **       27.29 ***

           Satisfaction   Negative

Grade 7    3.38 (0.55)   1.91 (0.73)
Grade 8    3.32 (0.57)   2.07 (0.71)
Grade 9    3.21 (0.48)   2.32 (0.70)
Grade 10   3.25 (0.51)   2.21 (0.61)
Grade 11   3.25 (0.56)   2.26 (0.74)
Grade 12   3.30 (0.50)   2.09 (0.64)
F          5.29 ***      23.25 ***

Note. ** p < .01, *** p < .001.

Table 3. Fit Indices of the Four Models

Model                       [chi square]   df    GFI    CFI    RMSEA

Model 1, all structural
  paths                     1099.77        155   0.96   0.98   0.0471
Model 2, deleted negative
  resolution-happiness      1100.29        156   0.96   0.98   0.0469
Model 3, deleted
  happiness-satisfaction    1100.75        157   0.96   0.98   0.0468
Model 4, deleted teacher
  support-negative emotion  1100.78        158   0.96   0.98   0.0466
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Article Details
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Author:Wang, Li-Jun; Wang, Wen-Chung; Gu, Hai-Gen; Zhan, Pei-Da; Yang, Xin-Xiao; Barnard, Julian
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Feb 1, 2014
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