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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Development and Consequences of Structural Reasoning about Social Status Disparities
by Peretz-Lange, Rebecca, Ph.D., Tufts University, 2020, 125; 27833961
Abstract (Summary)

A wide literature demonstrates people’s early-emerging “essentialist” tendency to attribute observed intergroup differences to intrinsic causes (e.g., genetics, insides, “essences”). However, less research explores “structural” attributions to extrinsic causes (e.g., circumstances, opportunities, treatment). Researchers have long proposed that attributions for status (hierarchical intergroup differences in power, ability, or resources) may drive the formation of prejudice: Children may attribute observed status disparities to intrinsic causes, and conclude low-status groups are intrinsically inferior, fostering prejudice. We investigate whether promoting structural attributions for status can disrupt children’s intuitive essentialist attributions, and in turn, inhibit the formation of status-based prejudice. We taught participants (n = 421) about a novel status disparity, framed in either intrinsic, neutral, or extrinsic terms. The status disparity was designed to be equally attributable to either an intrinsic difference between novel groups or an extrinsic difference between novel structures. Participants responded to causal attribution questions and social preference questions. We hypothesized that (1) verbal framing would impact participants’ attributions for the status disparity, (2) attributions would predict social preferences, and (3) verbal framing would impact preferences directly. Study 1 investigated these hypotheses among five- and six-year-olds (n = 106); Study 2 investigated them among five- and six-year-olds (n = 105), nine- and ten-year-olds (n = 105), and adults (n = 105) to explore developmental changes. Results showed that (1) verbal framing impacted participants’ attributions for the novel status disparity, across age cohorts. Attributions overall grew more structural over development. Additionally, (2) attributions predicted preferences, across age cohorts. Structural attributions predicted reduced preferences for the high-status group. Despite these results, we consistently found no evidence that (3) verbal framing impacted preferences directly. In fact, when attributions were held constant, framing impacted preferences in the opposite direction as expected. Exploratory analyses focus on generalizations of the verbal framing, relations between explanatory and counterfactual reasoning about status, and moral content in responses. Results are discussed as they relate to conceptual development, causal reasoning, and anti-prejudice education. Future research should continue to explore the circumstances under which extrinsic verbal framing may effectively promote a view of low-status groups as structurally marginalized but intrinsically valuable.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Muentener, Paul
Commitee: Remedios, Jessica, Thomas, Ayanna, Coley, John
School: Tufts University
Department: Psychology
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-B 81/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Developmental psychology, Cognitive psychology, Social psychology
Keywords: Attribution, Development, Essentialism, Prejudice, Status, Structural
Publication Number: 27833961
ISBN: 9798645492342
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