In what University of Maryland researchers are calling an investigation into “the group dynamics of childhood,” a new study reports that peer group influences affect children beginning in the elementary school years.
The research, published in a recent issue of Child Development, says that peer pressure is not just an adolescent issue, but begins in elementary schools as early as age nine.
University of Maryland developmental psychologist Melanie Killen, the study’s lead researcher, says that children begin to understand the costs and consequences of resisting peer group pressure early.
“Overall, these findings show that with age, children can apply their understanding of fairness to social groups, and recognize what makes group dynamics complex,” according to the study researchers. “They know that groups might not like it, but there may be times when standing up to the group is the right thing to do.”
Among the findings:
- When children are members of groups that want to be selfish, they think it is wrong, going so far as to explain why it’s wrong. They even think that one should stand up to groups when they want to be unfair – though the cost of social exclusion is still a concern.
- Children support members of their own groups that will tell the group to divide up resources equally, not unequally, and they strongly advocate for equal allocation of resources.
- Children are more positive about a peer who advocated for equality than a peer who advocated for doing something that reflected group identity such as the conventional act of wearing the club shirt.
- Children understand that their view of what the ingroup member “should do” would be different from what the group would want. While individually favorable towards someone who challenges the group, they expected that the group would not like it.