Preschool-aged children’s adherence to style conventions in a simple game.

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Bannoff, Sarah Morgan Chornenky
style convention , preschool
Style conventions are specialized ways of performing a given activity (e.g., dressing, eating, etc.) that have minimal practical significance, but play a crucial role in signaling ones membership or status within a particular social community. The primary goal of this study was to examine whether preschool-aged children would adhere to a novel style convention simply given information that the style was shared by others. A secondary goal was to investigate whether the way that the information about the style convention was framed would affect their adhering to that convention. Forty-eight five-year-olds and 48 three-year-olds were shown a novel apparatus and given a basket of yellow and orange balls. The simple game consisted of putting the balls into the apparatus, which made the apparatus light up. In a fully between-subjects design, half of the participants participated in the focal “convention” condition, in which they were then told that using one colour of balls was the norm. Half of the children in the convention condition received this information in inclusionary terms (ie. everybody uses orange), and half in exclusionary terms (ie. nobody uses yellow). Children’s performance in these focal conditions was compared with that of children who participated in control conditions in which the experimenter’s ball choice was explained by statement of her preferences (i.e. I like to use only orange/I don’t like to use yellow). The main finding was that when playing the game themselves, 3-year-olds were significantly more likely to systematically select target-coloured balls in the convention than in the preference control condition, whereas 5-year-olds did not show systematic performance in either. There was also a significant condition x frame interaction, whereby children were more likely to systematically select target balls in the preference exclusion frame than in the preference inclusion frame. These results show that explicit information about a shared style is sufficient to promote adherence to style conventions in 3-year-old children, though, perhaps not 5-year-olds. These findings are discussed with respect to the mechanisms that guide children’s acquisition of conventional forms across domains.
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