When Choices Are Not Personal: The Effect of Statistical and Social Cues on Children's Inferences About the Scope of Preferences

Journal of Cognition and Development 16 (2):370-380 (2015)

Authors
Tamar Kushnir
Cornell University
Abstract
Individual choices are commonly taken to manifest personal preferences. The present study investigated whether social and statistical cues influence young children's inferences about the generalizability of preferences. Preschoolers were exposed to either 1 or 2 demonstrators’ selections of objects. The selected objects constituted 18%, 50%, or 100% of all available objects. We found that children took a single demonstrator's choices as indicative only of his or her personal preference. However, when 2 demonstrators made the same selection, then children inferred that it generalized to other agents of the same kind as the original demonstrator's, but not to agents of a different kind. Lastly, only when both demonstrators blatantly violated random selection (i.e., in the 18% condition) did children generalize the preference even to an agent of a different kind. Thus, from a young age, social and statistical cues inform children's naïve sociology.
Keywords free will  development
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