Self-disclosure in the everyday conversations of kindergarten-aged children

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



What function does self-disclosing conversation play in the conversations of young children? Two studies were conducted to investigate how 5 14 year old children self-disclose in their everyday conversations. Both studies video-recorded children’s self-disclosing conversations while they participated in an art activity. Study 1 investigated the effect of two conversational partner characteristics (age of partner and partner familiarity), and of the conversational context on children’s self-disclosing behavior. Children were paired with an unfamiliar adult, an unfamiliar peer, or a familiar peer play partner, and conversations were recorded in three interaction contexts. Self-disclosure was found to be a more frequent topic of conversation in a fairly barren conversational environment than during an art activity. In each context, however, children self-disclosed at least twice as often with an unfamiliar as with a familiar play partner. There was no difference in self-disclosing behavior for children paired with an unfamiliar adult or an unfamiliar peer. Study 2 was designed to investigate a possible function for increased self-disclosing with an unfamiliar partner: that children use self-disclosure in early conversations with unfamiliar partners to gauge the desirability of future interaction. It was hypothesized that children would evaluate unfamiliar partners who did not participate in self-disclosure less favorably than children paired with a self-disclosing partner. A methodology was designed to allow children to think they were talking to another child when they were actually speaking with a researcher trained to talk like a five-year-old. Children were randomly paired with a play partner who either reciprocated or did not reciprocate self-disclosing conversation, and behavioral and evaluative] reactions were measured. Results indicated that children paired with a non-reciprocating partner became less persistent in their self-disclosing initiations over time. Children paired with a reciprocating partner self-disclosed at similar levels throughout the interaction. Evaluative differences were also found. Children paired with a non-reciprocating partner rated the unfamiliar peer significantly lower than children paired with a partner who reciprocated self-disclosure. Based on these findings, it was concluded that young children are differentially sensitive to the self-disclosing behavior of unfamiliar conversation partners, and that they use participation in self-disclosure as a gauge for establishing initial connections with unfamiliar partners.



This thesis was digitized as part of a project begun in 2014 to increase the number of Duke psychology theses available online. The digitization project was spearheaded by Ciara Healy.



Published Version (Please cite this version)


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.