Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Edwards, C.P. & Lewis, M. (1979). Young children's concepts of social relations: Social functions and social objects. In M. Lewis & L. Rosenblum (Eds.), The Child and Its Family, Genesis of Behavior, Vol. 2 (pp. 245-266). NY: Plenum.


Previous research has shown that by age 3-4, children classify the human world into age groups: babies, “little kids,” “big kids,” young adults (“mommies and daddies”), and old adults (“grandmothers and grandfathers”) (Edwards, 1984).. This study investigates young children’s concepts of age roles, that is, their expectations about what behavior makes most sense or is most appropriate for each age group. Study 1 was conducted at two daycare centers in the greater Princeton area, with 24 African-American and 24 European-American children aged 3.6 to 5.9 years. Each child was told a series of stories involving a set of doll-house figures that involved the seeking of help, seeking of information, giving of resources, and companionable play. Study 2 involved a similar study of social target X function relationships, but was conducted with photographs instead of dolls and at a private nursery school with all European American children. Both studies yielded a similar pattern of preferences, revealing that the children had clear notions of what kinds of social functions are appropriate with which kinds of social partners, e.g. grandparents were selected on the dependency stories but not on the companionable play story. The “big kids” were the most preferred figures overall, selected for all four kinds of social functions.