The effect of group membership on social behavior in young children




De La Cerda, Callie B.

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The ability to deceive others is an early-emerging and socially-complex skill which has been consistently linked to other social outcomes, including theory of mind (i.e., understanding thoughts and emotions of others). This study used a minimal group paradigm to examine children’s willingness to deceive in-group versus out-group members across varied contexts (e.g., lying for personal gain; lying to spite). Forty-one children (24 males) aged 4-7 (M=6.1y, SD=1.2y) played a puppet in three versions of a sticker-hiding game: Self-Benefit condition (child could lie for personal gain), Other-Benefit condition (child could lie to give another puppet a sticker), and No-Benefit condition (child could lie to spite in-group or out-group members). Children additionally completed a battery of theory of mind tasks and a measure of verbal and non-verbal IQ. Our results indicated that children lied the most in the Self-Benefit condition and lied equally to in-group and out-group members in this condition. However, when the potential for self-gain disappeared, in-group bias emerged. In the Other-Benefit condition and in the No-Benefit condition, children engaged in more lie-telling to out-group members. Results suggest that lying behavior is sensitive to group membership only in certain social situations. Specifically, young children are able to flexibly apply a complex social skill (i.e., deception) based on group membership and task demands. Further, children’s desire to benefit themselves appears to trump in-group bias. Future research should examine alternate situations, such as lying to avoid punishment, to determine whether the context of the lie has a stronger effect on children, or if group membership overrides the desire to benefit oneself. Children’s understanding of lying and group membership has implications for education and intergroup relations throughout development.



Theory of mind, Executive function, Intelligence quotient, Verbal intelligence, Non-verbal intelligence


De La Cerda, C. (2018). <i>The effect of group membership on social behavior in young children</i> (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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