Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Several sources of information may influence children’s ability to predict and explain behavior. For example, previous research has shown that children are aware of trait information and that children as young as age 5 use trait-based information to predict future behavior. Preschoolers are also aware of gender stereotypes and may use these stereotypes to predict and explain behavior. The current study investigates how children use information about traits in relation to information about gender stereotypes in order to predict and explain behavior. One hundred twenty-six preschoolers ranging in age from 35 to 73 months were randomly assigned to an experimental condition or control condition. Children in the experimental condition heard four stories containing information about characters that engaged in trait-consistent behaviors on three separate occasions and they were asked to predict future behavior when given three options: a trait-consistent behavior, a trait-inconsistent behavior, or a neutral behavior. They also heard four additional stories similar in nature to the trait stories but which emphasized gender information and were asked to predict future behavior when given three options: a trait-consistent and gender-inconsistent behavior, a trait-inconsistent and gender-consistent behavior, or a neutral behavior. For all stories children were also asked to explain the characters’ behaviors. Children in the control condition heard stories that were similar to the experimental stories except all trait information was removed. Results revealed that children provided significantly more trait-based behavioral predictions and explanations when given trait information than when not given this information. Older children provided significantly more trait-based predictions and explanations than younger children. Overall children did not provide more trait-based predictions and explanations for stories in which trait information was provided as compared to stories in which gender and trait information was given. Finally, preschoolers demonstrated an understanding of the stable nature of traits. Implications for caregivers interacting with children are discussed.
Riggio, Mary M. "Preschoolers' Use of Personality Traits to Predict and Explain Behavior." PhD diss., Bryn Mawr College, 2009.