Rules Trump Desires in Preschoolers' Predictions of Group Behavior

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Abstract

The objective of this article is to investigate the way children weigh conventional rules against desires when considering how a group will behave. To do so, two experiments involving a prediction task in which desires were pitted against conventional rules were presented to three- to five-year-old children. In Experiment 1, four scenarios were established as classroom scenes in which either one protagonist or three protagonists had a desire that went against an explicit conventional rule. In the individual control condition, the choices linked to the rules were at chance whereas, in the group condition, the participants predicted that all the protagonists would end up following the rule. Given that both conditions in Experiment 1 implied four rule followers in the design, Experiment 2 staged not three but seven potential rule transgressors to see whether the desire of the majority might undermine the rule. Results showed no majority effect: participants expected protagonists to act counter to their desire and to follow the rule. Such results suggest that children as young as three-year-old favor rules over desires when they have to predict the behavior of a group, whether it be the majority or not. Possible implications of these intriguing findings are discussed.

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