Preschoolers use minimal statistical information about social groups to infer the preferences and group membership of individuals

AbstractWe don't learn about each person we meet from scratch: Our knowledge of social groups (e.g., cognitive scientists) shapes our expectations about new individuals (e.g., the reader). Here we explore how 4- and 5-year-old children and adults use minimal statistical evidence about social groups to support inductive inferences about individuals. Overall, we find that both children and adults readily infer the preferences and group membership of new individuals when they have appropriate evidence to support these inferences. However, our results also suggest that children and adults interpret this information in different ways. Adults' responses align closely with a Bayesian model that assumes that each group's preferences are independent of one another. By contrast, we find preliminary evidence that children's inferences about the preferences of new group members are sensitive to the composition (Experiment 1) and size (Experiment 2) of the opposing group. Our work provides insights into how people form structured, generalizable representations of social groups from sparse data.

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