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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The development of structural reasoning abut social inequality Hall, Cameron E.


Structural inequalities create and perpetuate discrepant outcomes between social groups. However, both adults and children more often attribute discrepancies between social groups to internal factors of individuals, rather than to structural causes—a tendency which has been linked to increased prejudice toward disadvantaged group members across development. Therefore, promoting structural reasoning in childhood may serve as a means to mitigate the development of social biases. Across three studies we investigated children’s (3-to-8-years-old) ability to selectively make structural attributions for social inequality. Study 1 examined how equitable or inequitable outcomes between groups influenced children’s perception of structural factors and their ability to endorse structural attributions. Study 2 aimed to address alternative explanations for previous findings. In Study 3 we explored children’s ability to accurately map structural and internalist attributions to appropriate scenarios. Together, these three studies shed light on the developmental trajectory of structural reasoning. At 3-to-4-years-old, children demonstrated the capacity to recognize structural constraints and appropriately attribute outcomes to their respective internal and structural causes. By age five, children can also overcome internalist defaults to evaluate structural attributions for social inequality as superior. These findings suggest that children as young as three years old are capable of selectively applying structural reasoning and provide insight into how this type of reasoning may influence the development of intergroup biases.

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