Children's reasoning about group-level social hierarchies and their desires and expectations for the future
Young children detect power asymmetries within dyadic, zero-sum interactions, but little is known on the development of reasoning about more complex and multifaceted group-level hierarchies. We examined 5- to 10-year-old children’s (N = 144) reasoning about a social hierarchy (presented as a business context) in which the top group was in charge, the bottom group followed orders, and the middle groups were both in charge and followed orders. We assessed participants’ desired and expected positions within that hierarchy. Across participants, we varied the visual depiction of the hierarchy. Half of participants saw a structure with fewer people in top levels than in bottom levels (Pyramid hierarchy) and half saw a structure in which each level contained an equal number of people (Equal Numbers hierarchy). Results showed that older (vs. younger) children were more likely to perceive hierarchy as pyramid-shaped and to link prestige, wealth, wellbeing, and competence to top levels of the hierarchy. Warmth and effort, however, were linked to bottom levels of the hierarchy across ages. Children desired being at higher positions than they expected they would achieve, and the visual depiction of the hierarchy (Pyramid vs. Equal Numbers) differentially predicted girls’ and boys’ motivation to be at the top. Specifically, with age, boys were more likely to envision themselves at the top in the Pyramid hierarchy whereas girls were more likely to envision themselves at the top in the Equal Numbers hierarchy. Our findings suggest social hierarchy reasoning undergoes significant changes over development, and influences children’s desires and expectations for the future.
Social psychology; Development; Cognitive psychology; aspirations; future thinking; social hierarchy; Developmental psychology; Gender
Kinzler, Katherine Diane
M.A., Human Development
Master of Arts
dissertation or thesis