Stereotypes Decrease Children’s Tendency to Acknowledge Constraints on Choice

AbstractPrior research has documented children’s recognition that a choice made when constrained to a single option is a poor indicator of another’s preference. The present study (N = 246; 5 to 10 years) examined children’s tendency to make this inference in stereotypical contexts (e.g., a girl playing with a doll). Because stereotypes provide powerful explanatory frameworks (e.g., girls inherently like dolls), children may discount constraints and infer that constrained and unconstrained stereotypical choices are both evidence of a preference. The majority of children discounted constraints in this way. However, while younger children (5 to 6 years) tended to discount constraints similarly across both stereotypical and gender-neutral choices, older children (9 to 10 years) were more likely to discount constraints when reasoning about stereotypical choices. We also report evidence that, overall, children’s acknowledgment of environmental constraints may not be as robust as previously documented.

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