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Social categories are important factors to consider in the development of early social cognition among children. This is particularly true because social categories influence different aspects of children’s perceptions, behaviours, preferences, and cognitive development levels (Aboud, 2003). Variations of social categories magnify their influences on children’s development. Despite the different effects of social categories on children’s cognitive development, it is important to understand that different social elements, including age, gender, personalities, and interests (just to mention a few) create social categories. These social categories are especially profound across children’s developmental stages. This paper explains how social categories for induction change across these developmental stages, using age as a measure of change. Lastly, this paper expresses a bias on gender by explaining when children start to understand gender constancy.
How Social Categories for Induction Change With Age
According to the prepared categories proposal, social inductions differ across different age groups (Banaji & Gelman, 2013). Through this assessment, there is a strong consensus among researchers that most children develop changing perceptions about useful social categories as they grow older (Banaji & Gelman, 2013). The changing perceptions of significant social categories occur because of their changing meanings in human societies (Banaji & Gelman, 2013). Broadly, these findings are true, but for pre-school children, the findings of researchers are more explicit. For example, Rhodes (2012) conducted a four-phased study to evaluate naïve theories of social groups of children (aged from three to ten years).
She found that most children aged between three to five years expected their peers (from the same social category) to harm children from other social categories (Rhodes, 2012). Through the same findings, she also established that most children aged between six and ten years old behaved the same way (as above). However, Rhodes (2012) found that this group of children expected their peers (from the same social category) to help one another. Through an assessment of both findings, Rhodes (2012) found that the greatest difference between young children (aged three to five years old) and older children (aged six to ten years old) are their treatments of other social groups.
In detail, Rhodes (2012) found that young children (three to five years old) expected members of their social category to harm children from other social categories and still help them, while older children (six to ten years old) expected members of their social category to harm children from other social categories and help members of their social category. Rhodes (2012) conducted this research by observing the behaviours of 96 preschoolers in a quiet area of their school. The main research approach to the entire study was naïve sociology (an understanding of children’s abstract expectations in peer interactions).
Closely related to the above findings are the works of Banaji & Gelman (2013) which investigated the influence of social categories for induction change by analysing the behaviours of children aged between three and six years old. The researchers found that the children expressed a high regard for cooperative allegiances and a significant level of acceptance for harm to unfamiliar social categories. Nonetheless, besides viewing cooperative allegiances as fundamental and informative, Banaji & Gelman (2013) also established that most children viewed cooperative allegiances as determining unique moral obligations and as conferring membership in social kinds.
Gelman & Davidson (2013) have conducted similar studies to evaluate the relationship of social induction with age. The researchers used rich inductive references to conduct their research (mostly by understanding the behavioural differences of perceptual and cognitive influences on children and adults). The researchers conducted seven experiments on children aged between four and five years old. In sum, the researchers found that cognitive influences were more dominant in influencing the behaviours of children and adults alike (Gelman & Davidson, 2013). These findings affirm the above-mentioned findings by exposing the influence of cognitive (over perceptual influences) on children’s development.
Studies that investigate the influence of gender as a social category largely focus on explaining the issue through a comparison of two or more social factors. For example, Shutts (2013) explored the impact of social categories on children’s behaviours by exploring gender and racial influences. The researchers conducted the study on 24 children, aged three to four years, and found that most children start to understand gender constancy when they are three years old. This finding stemmed from previous research results, which showed that three-year-old children used gender to determine their friendships (as opposed to race). From this finding, Shutts (2013) said that gender emerged as the most potent social category for children between three and four years old.
Evidence of research to show the earliest ages of children developing unique gender preferences stem from findings that highlight how three and four year old children use gender to guide their personal preferences. Gelman & Davidson (2013) quotes a past research, which investigated gender preferences among three, four, and five year old children. The research included an experiment on white US children who saw a picture of a boy and a girl, a picture of a black child, and a picture of a white child. Researchers later asked the children to identify who they wanted to have as a friend. The study found that most three-year-old pre-schoolers chose children from their gender as the preferred friend (Gelman & Davidson, 2013).
However, as the study investigated the same relationship across the ages, it found that older children (five year olds) tended to associate (more) with children of their race, as opposed to their gender (Gelman & Davidson, 2013). Comprehensively, the researchers said that most three to five year old children were aware of gender and racial biases in their pre-school years, but the bias towards gender reduced as the children became older. Based on the earliest sample of children chosen for the study, plus the findings of the above study, it is safe to say that most children start to understand gender constancy at three years.
After weighing the findings of this study, it is correct to say social inductions among children vary with age. Gender especially surfaces as the most conspicuous social category for three-year-old children. As children grow older, more perceptual influences take root (like race). This same age group of children also tends to exhibit highly individualistic characteristics at young ages of three to four years (like harming members of other groups). However, as they grow older, they tend to be more considerate of others (for example by expecting members of the same social category to help members of other social categories). Most of the findings presented in this paper however evaluate this relationship from one lens of interaction – human relationships. Since human interactions are dynamic, this paper proposes that future research should explore the influence of social categories among children, beyond the sphere of human friendships. For instance, future research should investigate the impact of social categories on human dominance, or antagonism.
Aboud, F. E. (2003). The formation of in-group favouritism and out-group prejudice in young children: Are they distinct attitudes? Developmental Psychology, 39(1), 48–60.
Banaji, M., & Gelman, S. A. (2013). The Development of Social Cognition. New York, US: Oxford University Press.
Gelman, S., & Davidson, N. (2013). Conceptual influences on category-based Induction. Cognitive Psychology, 66(1), 327–353.
Rhodes, M. (2012). Naı¨ve Theories of Social Groups. Child Development, 4(1), 1–17.
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Shutts, K. (2013). Children’s Use of Social Categories in Thinking about People and Social Relationships. J Cogn Dev, 14(1), 35-62.