The Young Observer: Children’s Third-Party Inferences About Social Relationships
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CitationAfshordi, Narges. 2018. The Young Observer: Children’s Third-Party Inferences About Social Relationships. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractHuman social life is dependent on and structured by the many social relationships between individuals. Young and old, we are engaged in relationships both as first-party participants and as third-party observers. The developmental study of how we think about relationships is the topic of the current dissertation. The three papers provide insight into children’s conceptualization and reasoning about affiliative and hierarchical relationships from different angles.
Paper 1 examined children’s third-party inferences about friendship and preferences from reported dyadic information. Four-year-olds inferred friendship between individuals based on reports of joint activities, and reports of similarity, but not based on arbitrary links. Children also privileged joint activities over similarity when asked to adjudicate between the two. Further, four-year-olds expected individuals who had engaged in a joint activity to be playmates as well as friends, and to also share preferences for novel games, but not novel foods. These findings shed crucial light on preschoolers’ ability to infer friendship between others, and add to our knowledge of their concept of friendship.
Paper 2 tested preschoolers’ inferences about affiliation and continued imitation of the same target based on observed imitation. We found that even three-year-olds have an explicit concept of imitation, but that the abilities of three- to five-year-olds in making spontaneous inferences from imitation are limited. Interestingly, performance improves significantly when imitation is highlighted for children, either through drawing their attention to the fact that the imitator is copying the target (propositional scaffolding) or by priming the concept of imitation ahead of the task. These findings provide some answers to the puzzling discontinuity between previously reported success in infancy on the one hand and failure at age four on the other.
Paper 3 changed focus to hierarchical relationships, tackling children’s inferential abilities with regard to the cues and consequences of dominance and prestige. We compared participants in the UK with those in China, where ethnographic evidence reveals strong norms about prestigious individuals yielding to others, even those lower in status. We found that children around age six distinguished between cues to dominance and prestige in both countries. Importantly, we also found empirical evidence for a cultural difference. The norm surrounding prestige in Chinese culture manifested in adults’ and children’s inferences about who would win a conflict over a desired resource between low- and high-status parties.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41121217
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