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Children’s Reporting of Peers’ Behaviour

By Mr Gordon P. D. Ingram


This thesis describes a mixed-methods investigation of young children’s everyday social communication, focusing on tattling—the reporting of a peer’s negative behaviour to an audience. There are links between tattling and the development of gossip, and thus with the evolution of cooperative norms in humans. Tattling is a daily activity for many children, but has been little studied, especially in preschool contexts. \ud Quantitative sampling and participant observation are used to characterize behavioural reporting among 3- to 4-year-olds in 2 preschools in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Quantitative sampling shows that children in these populations are biased towards reporting negative actions by peers; that they are more likely to report actions of which they themselves are the victims; that they usually tell the truth; that their reports are rarely ignored by staff; and that there are relationships between frequency of tattling and measures of social dominance and relational aggression. Participant observation shows that tattling takes place in a complex social context; that children are generally aware of its effects; and that it is driven by a range of motivations, both self-oriented and group-oriented. \ud Two story recall experiments are described, aimed at testing the hypothesis that negative bias in children’s reports arises from the greater salience of negative behaviour. The experiments do not support this hypothesis, further strengthening the idea that children are acting out of strategic considerations when they report peers’ transgressions. Behavioural reporting in preschool contexts is compared with a sample of transcripts of children’s discourse recorded in 1970s England and stored in the CHILDES database. Examples of tattling and gossip are also found in the eHRAF ethnographic database. The thesis concludes with an interactionist model of the development of tattling and gossip, in which third-party mediation helps to integrate the affective and normative components of children’s developing moral systems.\u

Topics: Developmental Psychology, Evolutionary Psychology
Year: 2009
OAI identifier:

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