WINNERS, LOSERS, BULLIES AND LEADERS: Projects about how infants, toddlers and children think about social hierarchy

Everybody loves a winner? 

In this study, we showed toddlers a puppet show that is a lot like the Dr. Suess story, The Zax—one puppet tried to cross from left to right across the stage, and one tried to cross from right to left across the stage. However, unlike in The Zax, in our puppet show the conflict is resolved—one of the puppets bows down and moves out of the way allowing the other puppet to reach its goal. Then, we presented the two puppets to the toddlers and said, “Which one do you like?” and recorded which puppet the toddlers reached for.  Toddlers were much more likely to reach for the 'winners' than for the puppet who deferred. But toddlers preference had a limit: when the puppet used force to win, toddlers were much more likely to choose the victim than the 'winner'. Click on the title to see the preprint.

In another study, we asked whether infants (10 to 16 month olds) prefer those who defer or 'win' a conflict. Unlike toddlers, infants were more likely to reach for the ones who deferred. Preprint here

Collaborators: Lotte Thomsen, Angela Lukowski, Melenia Abrayams, Barbara Sarnecka

Children's Understanding of how groups make decisions

In this study we were interested in whether children can tell the difference between hierarchically organized groups (where one person makes decisions) and non-hierarchically organized groups (where people take turn making decisions). We're also interested in which type of organization they prefer. We found that 6 to 8 year olds can tell the difference between the two groups, and 7- and 8-year-olds prefer the non-hierarchical group. 

Collaborators : Vivian Mitchelle, Brandon Terrizzi, Paul Piff, Barbara W. Sarnecka

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility?

In this project, we were interested in how children expect people who are 'in charge' to act. We looked at bullying (pushing someone down or stealing a cookie) and protecting (kicking an outsider out who pushes someone down or steals a cookie). Four- to 8-year-old children think that the person in charge is much more likely to 'kick someone out' than a person who isn't in charge, and older children think they're less likely to push someone down.  In a follow up study we found that these expectations do not extend to all prosocial behaviors--children were less likely to choose the leader when asked, 'who helped someone who had fallen?'

Collaborators: Barbara W. Sarnecka

Who's Got the Power? How do children behave when they're 'in charge'?

In this project (in progress), we're interested in how children behave when they're 'in charge'. Children play a game with a puppet so that they're 'in charge', the puppet is 'in charge' or neither is 'in charge'. Then we ask if they think being 'in charge' means making decisions for the pair, whether they share more or fewer stickers, work longer or shorter on a boring task. 

Collaborators: Elisa Campello de Mello, Barbara W. Sarnecka

FAMILY AND FRIENDS: Projects about how infants think about affiliation

Do infants differentiate between close and distant social affiliation?

Pre-Registration here

The social networks of humans are vast, and include individuals we are not related to. In fact, we even treat some unrelated people as 'like-kin'. In these studies, currently underway, we are asking whether infants distinguish ‘close’ social affiliation (e.g. people you’d share an ice cream cone with) and distant social affiliation (e.g. people you would work with or help). Preliminary results suggest that 9 and 10-month old infants expect that someone who displays a ‘close’ affiliative cue toward a puppet (takes a bite of orange, feeds the puppet, then takes another bite) will comfort that puppet over a person who merely interacts with the puppet (by passing a ball back and forth). Moreover, 4 and 5-month-old infants seem to differentiate between these types of affiliation: they look longer at ‘close’ affiliative cues (where an experimenter puts her finger in her mouth, puts her finger in a puppet’s mouth, and then puts her finger back in her mouth) over distant ones (where an experimenter touches her forehead, touches a puppet’s forehead and then touches her own forehead).

Collaborators: Rebecca Saxe & Elizabeth Spelke

Do infants prefer those who are affiliated with their caregivers?

How do we learn about the people who are in our immediate social circle? In previous studies, infants recognized affiliation when they observed novel individuals interacting. In fact infants even prefer the individuals who were prosocial in these interactions -- for example preferring individuals who imitate or help. In this study we're interested in how infants evaluations change when their caregiver is involved in the interaction. 

Collaborators: Rebecca Saxe & Elizabeth Spelke


No Child Left Alone: Moral Judgments about Parents Affect Estimates of Risk to Children

In recent decades, Americans have adopted a parenting norm in which every child is expected to be under constant direct adult supervision. Parents who violate this norm by allowing their children to be alone, even for short periods of time, often face harsh criticism and even legal action. This is true despite the fact that children are much more likely to be hurt, for example, in car accidents. Why then do bystanders call 911 when they see children playing in parks, but not when they see children riding in cars? Here, we present results from six studies indicating that moral judgments play a role: The less morally acceptable a parent’s reason for leaving a child alone, the more danger people think the child is in. This suggests that people’s estimates of danger to unsupervised children are affected by an intuition that parents who leave their children alone have done something morally wrong. Click title for link to article.

Collaborators: P. Kyle Stanford & Barbara W. Sarnecka

Theories of Intelligence, Essentialism, and People's Ideas about the Brain

People who believe intelligence is fixed (called entity theorists) attribute failure to traits (i.e., “I failed the test because I’m not smart.”) and tend to be less motivated in school; those who believe intelligence is malleable (called incremental theorists) tend to attribute failure to behavior (i.e., “I failed the test because I didn’t study.”) and are more motivated in school. In previous studies, researchers have characterized participants as either entity or incremental theorists based on their agreement or disagreement with three statements. In this study, we further explored the theories-of-intelligence (TOI) construct in two ways: first, we asked whether these theories are coherent, in the sense that they show up not only in participants’ responses to the three standard assessment items, but on a broad range of questions about intelligence and the brain. Second, we asked whether these theories are discrete or continuous. In other words, we asked whether people believe one thing or the other (i.e., that intelligence is malleable or fixed), or if there is a continuous range of beliefs (i.e., people believe in malleability to a greater or lesser degree).  Click title for link to article.

Collaborator: Barbara W. Sarnecka

Interested in collaborating? Let's talk >>

Follow me


T: 805-701-5276   

  • Twitter Clean
This site was designed with the
website builder. Create your website today.
Start Now