Young children’s social-category based preferences and learning biases: an examination of methodological effects
O'Doherty, Katherine Duffy
By the time children reach the preschool years, they have become skilled in two social abilities: 1) dividing their world into social groups and evaluating people based on group dimensions; and 2) learning from social others. Researchers have begun to explore how one ability (social categorization) might affect the other (social learning). Results of two previous studies suggest that children selectively learn from social-cultural in-group members versus out-group members. However, the research methods in these studies may have affected the results (and the conclusions drawn from these results). In this dissertation, I examined two methodological factors that might influence whether preschool children show preferences and learning biases for social-cultural in-group members: 1) whether children were presented information by one source of information at a time, or presented with conflicting information from two speakers and 2) whether children saw out-group members “live” (present in the room) versus on video. I examined monolingual 3-and 5-year-olds’ learning from and preferences for a foreign-language (Russian) versus native-language (English) speaker, to determine if children consider a speaker’s social category (what language she speaks) when deciding if she is a trustworthy source of information and if they should “like” her. In the present study, children learned how to use novel objects from both speakers equally (whether the speakers were live or on video) when their information did not conflict. Children learned a novel word from an English speaker but not a Russian speaker, even when the Russian speaker was the sole source of information. When speakers were present, and children got to “warm-up” to the speakers first, the number of children who preferred the English or Russian speaker was the same. When the speakers were on video, equal numbers of children preferred the English and Russian speakers. Only children who saw the speakers “live” and were asked preference questions immediately showed an in-group bias. Overall, children learned non-verbal information equally from a Russian and English speaker. Thus, I conclude children do not have a bias to only learn from social-cultural in-group members.