Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD)
Phylogenetic and Ontogenetic Foundations of Social Power Reasoning
Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.
Navigating the complexities of social relationships is a fundamental task that many animals face throughout life. Although social animals must cooperate, conflict over valuable resources such as food, territory, and mates is inevitable. To reduce conflict and facilitate group cohesion, social dominance hierarchies form readily and rapidly among social species, including humans. In this dissertation, I will explore human infants’ capacity to represent social dominance between groups. First, in a series of three studies, I will examine whether 6–12-month-old infants are sensitive to relative numerical group size. The first two studies suggest that infants expect an agent from a numerically larger group to be socially dominant. A third study ruled out lower-level alternative explanations for these findings. Building upon this work, I will investigate whether infants represent members of social groups as allies. Across three studies I will explore whether individual members of a social group are expected to assume specific roles and obligations during intergroup conflict. Together, the results from these studies suggest that infants as young as 9 months of age expect intervening agents to exclusively aid ingroup members during a conflict. However, it is also important to be able to assess whether allies have knowledge that there is a conflict and are present and available to intervene. In the final two studies I explored whether allies’ ability to see intergroup conflict occur would affect infants’ expectations of social dominance. These findings suggest that 9–12-month-old infants only expected the group with more agents that could see the conflict occur to prevail and be socially dominant. This suggests that infants are not only sensitive to the overall number of agents in each group, but also consider allies’ ability to provide aid during a conflict. Taken together, this work provides novel insights into the phylogenetic and ontogenetic origins of infants’ capacity to represent social dominance relationships and hierarchies.
In adults, intergroup biases, such as racial attitudes and gender stereotypes, have been clearly linked to biased behavior. However, attempts to change intergroup bias in adulthood have been relatively unsuccessful, leading researchers to consider whether bias change might be more effective earlier in development. Indeed, children as young as age three show evidence of intergroup bias, and by age six, children have often internalized the biased attitudes and stereotypes of their culture. The following dissertation further examines the development of intergroup bias in order to understand how best to target bias change in childhood. First, in a series of three studies, I test an alternative method of measuring children’s implicit gender stereotypes called the Preschool Auditory Stroop in order to disentangle the specific associations that underlie implicit bias. The first two studies validate the use of this method and indicate that children as young as age three have implicit gender associations about the attributes and toys associated with boys and girls. The third study indicates that this method may be less likely to detect bias than category-based measures like the Implicit Association Test. Next, across four samples, I examine the effect of preschool children’s beliefs about math and gender on their math-related performance. Results conducted on the combined dataset indicate that while only a small number of girls have stereotypes associating math with boys, these girls perform significantly worse on a test of Approximate Number System accuracy when it is framed as a math test rather than a game or an eyesight test. Finally, the last set of studies examine the efficacy of a counter-stereotypical exemplar exposure intervention to reduce bias across development. As compared to adults, 5 to 12-year-old children appear to require less explicit instruction to change their bias. Taken together, this work provides novel insights into the nuanced development of intergroup bias and the malleability of bias in childhood.
Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.
The imbalanced representation of gender in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines functions as a barrier for women and gender equality. Prior research has identified stereotypes about gender roles, status, ability, and belongingness as some factors that hinder many STEM fields from reaching gender parity. In particular, women are perceived to be less agentic, to pursue lower-status occupations, and to lack brilliance and ability to succeed in STEM. Subsequently, women feel a lower sense of belonging than their male peers as underrepresented members. While these factors perpetuate the consequences of gender imbalance in these domains, there is also evidence of the early acquisition of gender stereotypes surrounding STEM abilities and interests in childhood. Specifically, children around age 6 make judgments about girls’ intellectual abilities and interests that are reflected in many gender-imbalanced domains. As a result, girls are discouraged from pursuing and engaging in STEM from a young age, which ultimately contribute to the pipeline problem. Nonetheless, it remains an open question whether children make similar inferences about other non-stereotyped domains. Therefore, I examine whether the gender (under)representation of groups shapes children’s inferences about the ability, inclusion, and social fit of minority members, even in STEM-neutral contexts. I also investigate whether the gender composition of groups influence how children reason about leadership. The findings suggest that 5-11-year-old children consider gender representation in groups to infer about the minority targets’ sense of belonging, to rectify gender disparity in groups, and to make leadership judgments. Taken together, this provides some initial evidence that children are sensitive to the social consequences of minority (and majority) status in groups.
Structural inequalities create and perpetuate discrepant outcomes between social groups. However, both adults and children more often attribute discrepancies between social groups to internal factors of individuals, rather than to structural causes—a tendency which has been linked to increased prejudice toward disadvantaged group members across development. Therefore, promoting structural reasoning in childhood may serve as a means to mitigate the development of social biases. Across three studies we investigated children’s (3-to-8-years-old) ability to selectively make structural attributions for social inequality. Study 1 examined how equitable or inequitable outcomes between groups influenced children’s perception of structural factors and their ability to endorse structural attributions. Study 2 aimed to address alternative explanations for previous findings. In Study 3 we explored children’s ability to accurately map structural and internalist attributions to appropriate scenarios. Together, these three studies shed light on the developmental trajectory of structural reasoning. At 3-to-4-years-old, children demonstrated the capacity to recognize structural constraints and appropriately attribute outcomes to their respective internal and structural causes. By age five, children can also overcome internalist defaults to evaluate structural attributions for social inequality as superior. These findings suggest that children as young as three years old are capable of selectively applying structural reasoning and provide insight into how this type of reasoning may influence the development of intergroup biases.
Previous research has suggested that infants exhibit a preference for familiar over unfamiliar social groups (e.g., preferring individuals from their own language group over individuals from a foreign language group). However, it is not clear whether such intergroup preferences are driven by positivity toward the familiar group and/or negativity toward the unfamiliar group. Using a novel habituation paradigm modeled conceptually after the Implicit Association Test, experiments 1-3 demonstrated that infants around 1-year of age positively evaluate the familiar language group, but do not negatively evaluate an unfamiliar language group. Experiments 4-5 addressed alternative interpretations of this core finding. Experiment 6 conceptually replicated Experiments 1-3, demonstrating that infants also expect members of the familiar language group (but not members of an unfamiliar group) to engage in prosocial behaviours. Together these data suggest that children’s early social group behaviours (e.g., toy choice, preferential looking) may be shaped by positive evaluations of familiar group(s), rather than negative evaluations of unfamiliar groups.
Implicit intergroup bias emerges early in development and exerts a powerful influence on an individual's social preferences and behaviors across the lifespan. While interventions to change these biases (e.g., racial bias) have been successful in adults, the magnitude of change is still notably small. No studies thus far have investigated whether these biases might be more amenable to change at different periods in development. Two studies examined potential developmental differences in the malleability of implicit bias. The first study examined the formation and malleability of novel implicit attitudes and stereotypes among children ages 5-12. The second study examined the effectiveness of a specific intervention, exposure to counter-stereotypical exemplars, to reduce an existing implicit bias (race attitudes) among similarly aged children. Results indicated that for a novel implicit bias, there were no differences by age in the capacity to form and change implicit associations. In contrast, for an existing implicit bias, exposure to counter-stereotypical exemplars successfully reduced biases for children nine years-of-age and older, but not for younger children. Together, these findings suggest that while the capacity to form implicit associations remains fairly continuous across development, there are nonetheless notable developmental differences in the ability to change such associations. Several potential mechanisms underlying this developmental change will be discussed.