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Young children and adults associate social power with indifference to others' needs.

Authors
  • Terrizzi, Brandon F1
  • Woodward, Amanda M2
  • Beier, Jonathan S2
  • 1 Division of General and Community Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH 45229, USA. Electronic address: [email protected]
  • 2 Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.
Type
Published Article
Journal
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology
Publisher
Elsevier
Publication Date
Oct 01, 2020
Volume
198
Pages
104867–104867
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2020.104867
PMID: 32623145
Source
Medline
Keywords
Language
English
License
Unknown

Abstract

In hierarchical societies, what do we expect from people at the top? Early in life, children use horizontal relationships (e.g., affiliation) to predict selectivity in others' prosocial behavior. But it is unknown whether children also view asymmetries in prosocial behavior as characteristic of vertical relationships (e.g., differences in social power). In two experiments, we investigated 4- to 7-year-old children's and adults' (N = 192) intuitions about links among relative authority status, helpful action, and unhelpful inaction. In Experiment 1, participants at all ages viewed a character who chose not to help another person as holding a position of authority over them; participants also viewed this unhelpful character as being less nice than the person in need. However, no age group made consistent inferences about the relative authority of a helper and a helpee. In Experiment 2, children had mixed intuitions when separately predicting whether high- and low-authority characters would be helpful in the future. However, older children and adults consistently indicated that a subordinate would be more likely than an authority to help a third party. These findings establish that children's social theories include expectations for links between power and prosociality by at least the preschool years. Whereas some judgments in this domain are stable from 4 years of age onward, others emerge gradually. Whether consistent responses occurred early or only later in development, however, all measures converged on a single intuition: People more easily associate authority with indifference to others' needs. Copyright © 2020 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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