How does children’s perceived social status influence decision-making?

    • Topic: Social Interactions

    • Location: Discovery Center

    Children will often compare the quality and amount of resources that they have to those of their peers. This type of comparison might drive kids to think they have less, more, or an equal amount when compared to those around them – this is known as their subjective social status. However, we don’t yet know how children’s beliefs about their subjective social status affects certain aspects of their behavior, like decision making. In this study, we are exploring how children’s beliefs about their social status are related to their willingness to make risky economic decisions.

    Children (ages 4 – 10 years) will be asked to think about their social status, and rank where they think their family is (in relation to their neighborhood) on a 10 point scale. Then, children will be asked to play a series of spinner games where they can either choose to use a spinner with a guaranteed gain of rewards (e.g. a 100% chance of 2 stickers) or they can instead choose to use a spinner with a riskier option (e.g. a 50% chance for 4 stickers and a 50% chance for 0 stickers). We will vary the amount of rewards each time to see how this may impact children’s decisions.

    This study will help us understand how children’s perceptions of their relative status may be related to their willingness to take chances. This research can help identify individual differences in risky decision-making and how subjective beliefs may affect future choices.

    This work is conducted at the Museum of Science, Boston by Teresa Harvey 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 of the Discovery Center. With your child, pretend to be really hungry chipmunks and search for ‘food’. The ‘food’ may be hidden in various locations around the exhibit and there may be other animals searching as well! Tell your child that these other animals already have a lot of food, but you and your child don’t have any! Ask your child if s/he would like to search somewhere where s/he would find 2 pieces of food for sure, or if s/he would like to take a risk and search in a location that sometimes has 4 pieces of food but other times has no pieces of food.

    Now, pretend that you are both full and have a lot of food left over. Encourage your child to look for more food – does s/he choose the same location as s/he did when you had no food? Does s/he choose to search in the “guaranteed” location, or the “risky” location?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Resources and Risk

    When children are receiving highly valued resources (e.g. tasty treats or stickers), they may make “riskier” decisions if given the opportunity – for example, getting a 50-50 shot at receiving either double the number of treats, or zero treats.

    With your child, collect a small number of snacks that s/he likes (e.g. animal crackers), and ask your child to make a choice: would s/he prefer to have one animal cracker, or to flip a coin that could result in either receiving 2 animal crackers, or zero animal crackers? How does your child respond? If you change the stakes of the coin flip (e.g. receives 5 crackers or zero crackers), does your child’s response change?

Research Spotlight

Contact Living Laboratory staff:

livinglaboratory@mos.org