Naïve Theories of Social Groups


  • I am very grateful to the children, parents, and teachers at the preschools and elementary schools that participated in this research, as well as to the families and staff at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. I am also very thankful to Kelli Grobe, Joe Dietzel, Abigail Mengers, Lisa Chalik, and David Berman for their assistance with data collection, to Yarrow Dunham and Amanda Brandone for helpful feedback on an earlier draft of this manuscript, and to Karl Edwards for the study illustrations. Funding was provided by NYU challenge funds and NSF Grant BCS-1147543.

concerning this article should be addressed to Marjorie Rhodes, 6 Washington Place, room no. 301, New York, NY 10003. Electronic mail may be sent to


Four studies examined children’s (ages 3–10, Total = 235) naïve theories of social groups, in particular, their expectations about how group memberships constrain social interactions. After introduction to novel groups of people, preschoolers (ages 3–5) reliably expected agents from one group to harm members of the other group (rather than members of their own) but expected agents to help members of both groups equally often. Preschoolers expected between-group harm across multiple ways of defining social groups. Older children (ages 6–10) reliably expected agents to harm members of the other group and to help members of their own. Implications for the development of social cognition are discussed.