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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Balance and agreement in children's social perception Gutman, Gloria Margaret


The primary purpose of this study was to investigate the structural bases of pleasantness and consistency ratings and to determine the relationship between the two types of judgement in children ranging in age from 5-12 years. A secondary purpose of the study was to determine whether the results of studies by Atwood (1969) and by Storm and Knox (1969) using a prediction procedure to investigate the developmental course of cognitive balance would generalize to a different dependent measure. Subjects in the study were 80 children, 20 (10 males and 10 females) from each of the following age groups: 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, and 11-12 years. They rated hypothetical social situations both for pleasantness and for consistency. The situations were of the P-O-X type, consisting of the subject, another person, and an unspecified, but important "thing." On the assumption that affect influences the social perceptions of younger children more than considerations of consistency it was predicted that in their ratings of social situations younger children would differentiate little between pleasantness and consistency (i.e., situations rated as pleasant would also be rated as consistent). Relative to the youngest children, older children were expected to differentiate more between pleasantness and consistency. Thus, it was predicted that as a function of increasing age, correlations between pleasantness and consistency ratings would monotonically decrease across the successive age groups in the study. Further, it was predicted that children at all age levels would attach greater weight to agreement than to balance when making pleasantness ratings and that younger children would also base consistency ratings more on agreement than on balance. However, balance was expected to exert greater influence than agreement on the consistency ratings of older children. This follows from Zajone's (1968) review and its extension which suggest that agreement is more important than balance when the dependent measure relates to affect whereas balance exerts greatest influence when the task relates to psychological consistency. The results failed to yield evidence of age differences in differentiation between pleasantness and consistency. Correlations between the two types of ratings were high in all groups. These were also no age differences in the relative weighting of balance and agreement. Children in all groups utilized balance to a slightly greater extent than agreement when pleasantness was the criterion; agreement was used to a slightly greater extent than balance when the children rated for consistency. The effects of balance and agreement were very small, however, in comparison to those of attraction. Children in all age groups appeared to base both pleasantness and consistency ratings primarily on attraction (i.e., on the sign of the P/0 bond). A cross-validation study conducted concurrently with the principal study by an independent and “naive" E yielded the same pattern of results. Differences in results obtained with children in the rating situation vs the prediction situation were tentatively attributed to differential task complexity. It was suggested that differences between adults (cf., Zajonc, 1968) and children in the rating situation may be due to differences in information processing abilities and/or to differences in the strength of the balance "schema.” That is, the "schema" or implicit code for balance may be more firmly established in adults than in children. This could perhaps account for the fact that although adults utilize balance to a greater extent than agreement or attraction in the prediction situation and when rating for consistency, strong balance effects among children are obtained only in the easier prediction situation. The balance "schema" in children, in other words, may not be of sufficient strength to withstand the competition of alternative biases such as attraction, agreement, and positivity when the more complex rating task is used.

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