Do preschoolers track and evaluate social includers and excluders?

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Woodward, A.M., Knoll, S.K., Beier, J.S. (2019, May). Some preschoolers track and evaluate social includers and excluders. Poster presented at Association for Psychological Science, Washington.


Exclusion leads to negative effects across the social and cognitive domains (Wesselman & Williams, 2013). Because the consequences of social exclusion can be severe, social psychologists have characterized social-cognitive mechanisms for detecting exclusion and motivating responses to mitigate its effects. Although both adults and children respond to exclusion in ways that facilitate social connection, it is unclear whether two components of a system for detecting and responding to social exclusion, tracking and evaluating a prior excluder, are present in early childhood.

The current research investigates whether 4- to 6-year-old children track and evaluate social excluders. Children in both experiments played in inclusive and exclusive ball-toss games. Children then reported explicit social evaluations comparing players from each game by answering who was meaner, a better sharer, or a better play partner for a third party.

In Experiment 1, four-year-olds (N=32) had mixed evaluations of the players.  An exploratory analysis revealed that children who indicated that the includer was a better sharer (n= 19 of 32) viewed the excluder as meaner (18 of 19, p < .001).

In Experiment 2, 96 children, ages 4 to 6 years old, participated in a similar procedure to Experiment 1—now including an explicit memory check question. Children who passed the memory check (n = 68) evaluated includers more positively (44 of 68, p = .02) excluders more negatively (46 of 68, p = .004) and recommended that a new puppet play with the includer (49 of 68, p = .003). These effects were primarily driven by younger children, as 6-year-olds did not evaluate excluders negatively. Future work should determine if children younger than 4 years old can track and detect social exclusion.