Perceived-age ascriptions as a factor in the social-role perception and social-role behavior of preschool children in a mixed-age setting
Blume, Libby Balter
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The effect of ascribed age on preschool children's social-role perceptions and interactions in a mixed-age preschool setting was investigated. Person-perception tasks using familiar stimuli were combined with naturalistic observations in a familiar social context. Fourteen boys and 14 girls, aged 39 to 74 months, sorted classmates' photographs by relative age group (Perceived- Young/ Perceived-Old). Subjects also used a pictorial rating scale designed for the study to rate their classmates on three social roles (Show, Help, Share). Observers then coded subjects' social-role behaviors in the mixed-age preschool classroom to determine the relative frequency of the complementary leader/ follower roles of Manager/ Managee, Teacher/ Learner, and Giver/ Receiver with each perceived-age group. Results indicated that differences in age ascriptions for mixed-age classmates influenced preschool children's social-role ratings and behaviors. Children perceived as old were given significantly higher ratings by subjects on the social roles of showing, helping, and sharing than children perceived as young. Subjects also enacted significantly more leader-style social-role behavior with children perceived as young compared to old and significantly more follower-style social-role behavior with children perceived as old compared to young. No significant gender differences were obtained. Findings of the study extend previous research regarding the complementarity of sibling interaction. Data suggest that preschool children can successfully represent showing, helping, and sharing social-role schemas associated with the ascribed relative ages of familiar peers. Representation of a social partner according to a social schema of age-typical social-role behavior may explain the tacit knowledge of social roles children evidence in mixed-age prosocial behavior. Thus, mixed-age preschool groupings may be expected to provide children with the opportunity for social-cognitive development.
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