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)

Danovitch, Judith

Committee Member

Danovitch, Judith

Committee Member

Kondrad, Robyn

Committee Member

DeCaro, Marci

Committee Member

Mekawi, Yara

Author's Keywords

Children; social roles; hierarchies; social inequality


Children are surrounded by social structures such as families, schools, and workplaces which are often arranged hierarchically with some people holding more power than others. This dissertation explores how children think about hierarchical relationships and more complex hierarchical structures. In Chapter 2, children were asked to evaluate the traits of people who hold hierarchically dominant and subordinate social roles. With age, 4- to 6-year-olds increasingly inferred that dominant individuals have social power and they deferred to their instructions (Chapter 2, Study 1). Furthermore, 5- and 6-year-olds attributed knowledgeability to individuals with dominant social roles but overall children did not prefer to ask those individuals for information (Chapter 2, Study 2). Chapter 3 extended these studies by presenting children with larger social structures depicting gender and racial inequality and asking children to recognize inequality (Study 1), rectify inequality (Study 2) and create social hierarchies (Study 3). Regardless of age, participants judged hierarchies with more than one woman or Black man in a position of power as fair. However, hierarchies with only one minoritized individual were judged as neutral in gender hierarchies or unfair in racial hierarchies (Chapter 3, Study 1). Children were also asked to rectify inequality by promoting individuals to positions of power in unequal control (arbitrary non-social color groups), gender, and racial hierarchies. Children selected to promote majoritized individuals to positions of power when they were arbitrary groups and children’s gender influenced their responses to gender inequality where girls promoted more women to positions of power than boys (Chapter 3, Study 2). Lastly, children created a social hierarchy without the influence of representations of inequality. In-group gender favoritism drove children’s selections where girls selected more women than men for every tier of the hierarchy but boys were only influenced by gender when selecting someone for the top of the hierarchy. When making racial hierarchies, children selected both White men and Black men equally to be in positions of power (Chapter 3, Study 3). These studies suggest that children can infer power from simple hierarchical structures and that they are motivated to rectify inequalities in more complex social structures.