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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Publication details

Flynn, E., Turner, C. & Giraldeau, L. (2018). Follow (or don’t follow) the crowd: Young children’s conformity is influenced by norm domain and age. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 167: 222-233.

Author(s) from Durham


This study investigated whether young children’s conformity to a consensus varies across the normative domain and age. A total of 168 3- and 5-year-olds participated. Each child was presented with a puzzle box that had two transparent compartments. In a reward preference condition, one of the compartments contained 1 sticker, whereas the other compartment contained 12 stickers. In perceptual judgment and arbitrary preference conditions, one compartment contained a short plank, whereas one contained a perceptually longer plank. Each child was shown a video of four female adults, each of whom was asked the same question within condition: “Which one’s the biggest?” (perceptual task; each model retrieved the smaller block), “Which one do you want?” (reward preference; each model retrieved the smaller reward), and “Which one do you want?” (arbitrary preference; each model retrieved the smaller plank). Children were then asked the same question by condition and were allowed to retrieve the item. Notably, more children conformed in the arbitrary preference condition than in the reward preference and perceptual judgment conditions, with 3-year-olds conforming significantly more than 5-year-olds. The 5-year-olds were more successful and imitated with greater fidelity, including demonstrating overimitation. However, less overimitation was observed in the arbitrary preference condition. Together, these findings show that children are sensitive to the contextual cues of the domain in which they are witnessing norms and vary their own conformity based on such cues. Furthermore, children can navigate which information to copy to fulfil their own ends.

School of Education