Children's descriptive-to-prescriptive tendency

Colloquium | April 16 | 12:10-1:30 p.m. | 3105 Tolman Hall

 Steven O. Roberts, Department of Psychology, Stanford University

 Department of Psychology

Young children are quick to take a normative stance – they interpret world around them as being governed by standards and rules that must be followed. On the one hand, normative reasoning is useful in that it promotes one’s self (e.g., facilitating learning), one’s culture (e.g., transmitting practices across generations), and one’s group (e.g., increasing group functioning). On the other hand, however, normative reasoning constrains how the world is perceived. In this talk, I will share a series of experiments that focused on one such constraint, namely, children’s tendency to interpret how a group is as evidence for how individual group members should be (i.e., a descriptive-to-prescriptive tendency). That is, once children (ages 4 to 13) learn that a group is characterized by a property, they believe that individual group members should be characterized by that property, and that it is bad if they are not. Overall, these experiments suggest that children’s descriptive-to-prescriptive tendency a) emerges early in development, b) replicates (and varies) across distinct cultures, c) is elicited by both visual and verbal input, d) declines with age at as an explicit bias but persists as an implicit bias, e) and influences what children judge as conventionally and morally appropriate. Implications for social stereotyping will be discussed.