Last updated August 1, 2018 at 10:14 am
Children start early in worrying about their reputation and how they’re seen by others.
Children as young as five care about their image and reputation and behave accordingly, according to new research.
Psychologists Ike Silver and Alex Shaw suggest that children take leads from how those around them behave, including adults who highly value their reputations.
“Psychologists have been long interested in how we construct our identities and the sorts of strategies that we use to present ourselves in society,” said Shaw, an assistant professor of developmental psychology at the University of Chicago.
“We’re finding that the kinds of complex and strategic self-presentation behaviour we see in adults appear at a much younger age than previously known.”
This includes changing their behaviour in order to appear moral or socially good in the eyes of key observers.
“As a society, we’re heavily focused on image construction and self-presentation, and our children get early, condensed exposure to the idea of image and social status,” said Silver, a doctoral student at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
Research shows that a child’s awareness of social standing cascades down from adults and spans across cultures, despite varying social norms and expectations. Like grownups, they want to be accepted by those they admire.
Interactive experiences like sharing toys, working in a team and listening to a teacher may provide opportunities for children to learn about what constitutes a desirable reputation and the kinds of strategies that are effective for building a good reputation in their social environment.
What is not yet known, the researchers say, is whether children understand and use the fact that different traits (for example bravery or non-conformism) are valuable at different times to different audiences.
The obvious next question is “What happens even earlier than age five?”
“We don’t believe children show up to the first day of kindergarten and have the idea of reputation suddenly pop into existence,” Silver said.
The paper published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences.