Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Degree Program

Experimental Psychology, PhD

Committee Chair

Noles, Nicholaus

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Mervis, Carolyn

Committee Member

Mervis, Carolyn

Committee Member

Danovitch, Judith

Committee Member

Lyle, Keith

Committee Member

Nguyen, Simone


Social categories allow children to make inferences about novel situations, which can then guide their interactions with others. However, this process can be complicated because individuals often belong to many different, sometimes interrelated, social categories. Four experiments examine whether children and adults differ in their willingness to classify a person as holding two social roles (e.g., a mother and a daughter), and how this influences their reasoning. Specifically, this work will examine the influence of cross-classification on inductive inferences, trust in testimony, and knowledge evaluations. The aim of these experiments is to investigate whether children privilege certain roles when reasoning about individuals who hold multiple social roles. Because children rely heavily on their knowledge of individuals’ social roles to interact with them appropriately, it is important that children be able to accurately use these social categories to reason about others. Experiments 1 and 2 explore children’s willingness to cross-classify individuals into a variety of social roles with varying degrees of hierarchical (vs. non-hierarchical) structure. Experiment 2 further examines what cognitive mechanisms may underlie children’s cross-classification behaviors. Experiments 3 and 4 examine how children make inferences about and evaluate the testimony of cross-classified individuals. Overall, the findings of these four experiments illustrate that there are developmental differences in willingness to cross-classify and reasoning about cross-classified individuals occurring between the preschool, early elementary, and adult years. The results of these experiments suggest that cross-classification may influence the way children make inferences about individuals, but that cross-classification does not influence their trust in the testimony of individuals with multiple social roles. This work contributes to our growing understanding of how children utilize information about social categories to reason about others.