Published in The Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, a new study is the first to test young children's willingness to make sacrifices in the name of group loyalty. Antonia Misch and her colleagues recruited 48 five-year-olds and 48 four-year-olds, with an equal number of girls and boys in each age group. The researchers tested each child individually and began by introducing them to four hand puppets.
|Puppets used in the study. Figure from Misch et al|
Overall, 61 per cent of the children resisted the temptation to reveal the secret. But the key finding is that more children chose to keep the secret when they were urged to do so by puppets in their own team as opposed to the other team (75 per cent vs. 48 per cent). This in-group loyalty effect was present at both ages, suggesting the motivating effect of group loyalty is already present by age 4. However, there was an overall effect of age on the ability or willingness to keep the secret – averaging across the in-group and out-group conditions, 71 per cent of five-year-olds kept the secret compared with 52 per cent of four-year-olds.
The researchers said that their findings "extend previous research on children's verbal predictions of their own loyalty and children's attitudes about other people's loyalty in demonstrating that even in direct social interactions where children are tempted to be disloyal, they can choose to remain loyal." The findings are all the more striking given that the groups were so arbitrary and had only been formed a few minutes earlier. Misch and her team said that it's likely children would feel an even keener sense of loyalty and identification with their real life groups.
Misch A, Over H, & Carpenter M (2016). I won't tell: Young children show loyalty to their group by keeping group secrets. Journal of experimental child psychology, 142, 96-106 PMID: 26513328
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.
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