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Who Can Be in a Group? Mutual Intentions Framework and Perceptions of Real-World Groups

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Background: Understanding of group membership is essential to navigating the social world. Previous work demonstrates that children as young as five years old recognize entitativity (“realness”) in groups that are intimate (e.g., friends), work on a common tasks (e.g., teams), or share a similarity physically or categorically (Plotner, Over, Carpenter, Tomasello, 2016). One method children may utilize to constitute group existence is mutual intentionality. That is, when both the person wanting to join a group and the group itself want the person to join, it constitutes group membership. Recent work has shown children as young as four years old apply a mutual intentionality framework to novel encounters with social groups (Noyes & Dunham, 2017).

To date, this framework has yet to be applied to real-world social groups such as friends, race, and gender and has not tested children younger than four years old. Therefore, the present preregistered study seeks to investigate when the mutual intention framework of identifying groups emerges for young children and how this framework may differ when applied to both minimal groups versus real-world social groups. We expect that a child may respond differently to whether a new individual can join the groups based on a combination of the child’s age (three, four, and five years old), the intentions of the people involved (individual only, group only, mutual intentions), and the type of group (task, friend, family, gender, race).

Methods: In study 1, children ages three through five will be presented with three types of groups: a task group (kids building a castle with blocks), a friend group (kids eating lunch together), and a family group (siblings playing with their dog). For each group type, children are given three types of intentionality (individual only, group only, and mutual) and asked if a new character can join the group or not. Study 2 follows the same design, only tests gender as the group boundary. Study 3 tests this question using racial group membership. Study 1 is completed with age groups three and four, and studies 2 and 3 are ongoing.

Results: For study 1 (N = 84; 31 3 year olds, 34 4 year olds; 45 girls), a binary logistic regression model was performed to test the effects of age, group type, and intentionality on the likelihood of perceiving group membership. The model was statically significant χ2(7) = 114.182, p < .001, explained 19.8% (Nagelkerke R2) of the variance of group joining, and correctly classified 74.7% of cases. An interaction between age and intentionality revealed that four year old children were 2.159 times more likely to rely on mutual intentions in perceiving group membership than three year olds. That is, this perception is partially online at age three, but by age four, children seem to almost exclusively use mutual intentions as a rule for group membership (see Figure 1). Studies 2 and 3 are ongoing and will provide a stricter test of group intentionality in real social groups that are viewed as more essentialist.

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