Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Children use a variety of strategies to determine the relative value of the objects they encounter, ranging from simple heuristics to the integration of information from multiple sources. Do children also incorporate social information - specifically, information pertaining to others' preferences - into their object valuations? Valuation is an important component of economic exchange, and is key to assessing how resources are fairly distributed or favors reciprocated. As humans often need to make critical decisions with limited information, garnering information about value via social sources might be an adaptive strategy. This dissertation has two primary goals: (1) to develop methodology to assess value discrimination in young children, and (2) to investigate how young children's resource valuations - and subsequent preferences - might be influenced by the preferences of their peers. These goals were realized across four empirical studies. The study presented in Chapter 2 used an established resource distribution methodology, the Dictator Game, to test whether 4-year-old children's preferences were influenced by the preferences of their peers. Children observed, via video, four peers sequentially display the same preference for one of two stickers. Each peer expressed liking one sticker and disliking the other. Subsequently, in the Dictator Game, children kept more stickers their peers liked than stickers their peers disliked, suggesting that children extracted informational content about the value of

the resources from their peers and used that to guide their own preferences. The studies presented in Chapter 3 aimed to clarify these findings, extend this research to younger children, and develop new resource distribution tasks to assess value discrimination. Three studies investigated whether 3-year-old children differentially distribute two resources (stickers) based on an a priori preference for one of the resources (Study 1), use peers' preferences (e.g., their likes and dislikes) to inform their valuations and subsequent resource distribution when children do not have an a priori preference for a resource (Study 2), and incorporate peers' preferences into their own choices (Study 3). The results suggest that young children used their a priori, explicitly stated, preferences to differentially distribute the resources, giving their favorite option to a prosocial agent who was presumably more deserving than the other agent. Further, after viewing four peers express a consistent preference for one option over another, children appeared to devalue the option their peers disliked, as they systematically avoided selecting it for a prosocial agent, a new child, and themselves. Interestingly, in the resource distribution tasks, girls, but not boys, appeared to increase their value of the option their peers liked, as they gave more liked than neutral (non-valenced) resources to the prosocial agents. Finally, children chose equally between the liked and neutral resources as their own favorite, while avoiding the disliked resources. These findings suggest that children's resource valuations are informed by the preferences of their peers. Further, it is possible that subjective negative information (e.g., others' dislikes) plays a privileged role in influencing children's choice behavior. These findings are discussed in the context of a negativity bias, and several explanations are considered to explain the gender difference. Together, the studies provide new insight into children's early economic reasoning, and highlight how peer preferences influence children's developing valuations.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Lori Markson

Committee Members

Pascal Boyer, Todd Braver, Julie Bugg, Janet Duchek, Camillo Padoa-Schioppa


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