How do children view interactions between members of social groups?

    • Topic: Social Interactions

    • Location: Discovery Center

    Young children are introduced to many social categories including gender, religion, and nationality. Different cultures may see interactions between members of a social category in different ways; as such, children belonging to different cultures may have varied views about what types of interactions are okay or are not okay between members of social groups within a category. Our current research considers how children in the United States view interactions between people from different social groups when one member does something “mean” to the other, and how this may differ from children in other countries.

    In this study, children (ages 5 – 10 years) see a series of images that show children interacting with each other. In some stories a character interacts with someone from their own social group; in other stories, characters interact with someone from a different social group. In all of these interactions, one character will do something “mean” (e.g. stealing, pushing). We then ask children what they think of the character’s “mean” behavior (e.g. was it okay, or not okay), how the interaction makes them feel, and how they think the character feels. We are interested in learning whether children answer these questions differently based on which social group the characters belong to.

    This study will help us learn about the extent to which children believe that belonging to certain social groups determines how one behaves, feels, and reacts to situations. The study may also generate new information about how children living in different cultures respond in different ways to these kinds of social interactions.

    This work is conducted at the Museum of Science, Boston by Telli Davoodi and the Social Development and Learning Lab at Boston University.

        » Boston University Social Development and Learning Lab

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Finding Food

    Find the animal costumes and masks in the Children’s Gallery. Pretend to be hungry chipmunks with your child and search for ‘food’. When your child finds a food item, tell him or her that the food belongs to another chipmunk. Ask your child if s/he thinks it is okay to take the food, and how the other chipmunk might feel if s/he takes it.

    Search for more food with your child, but when s/he finds the next food item, tell your child that it belongs to a rabbit. Ask your child if s/he thinks it is okay to take the food, and how the rabbit might feel if s/he takes it. Does your child’s answer or actions change depending on what animal the food item belongs to? Is s/he more willing to take from a chipmunk (the same animal) or from a rabbit (a different animal)?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Story Time!

    Watch a favorite movie or read a favorite story with your child. Help him or her think about some “categories” the characters in the film or book may belong to (e.g. hero or villain, brave or shy, girl or boy, or old or young). Can your child group any of the characters in the story together based on these traits? Help your child identify when a character is being “mean” to another character (e.g. calling names, pushing). Ask your child how s/he feels about the character’s actions toward another character. Ask your child how s/he thinks the characters feel about the action. Does your child’s answer change depending on the kind of social category the characters belong to? Does it change if the characters belong to the same group as opposed to different groups?

Research Spotlight

Contact Living Laboratory staff:

livinglaboratory@mos.org