Children’s Expectations and Understanding of Kinship as a Social Category

In order to navigate the social world, children need to understand and make predictions about how people will interact with one another. Throughout most of human history, social groups have been prominently marked by kinship relations, but few experiments have examined children’s knowledge of and reasoning about kinship relations. In the current studies, we investigated how 3- to 5-year-old children understand kinship relations, compared to non-kin relations between friends, with questions such as, “Who has the same grandmother?” We also tested how children expect people to interact based on their relations to one another, with questions such as “Who do you think Cara would like to share her treat with?” Both in a storybook context and in a richer context presenting more compelling cues to kinship using face morphology, 3- and 4-year-old children failed to show either robust explicit conceptual distinctions between kin and friends, or expectations of behavior favoring kin over friends, even when asked about their own social partners. By 5 years, children’s understanding of these relations improved, and they showed some expectation that others will preferentially aid siblings over friends. Together, these findings suggest that explicit understanding of kinship develops slowly over the preschool years.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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