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Young children selectively seek and offer help when solving problems


This dissertation investigated whether young children are sensitive to psychological cues in their social-learning partners when solving problems. Two groups of children age 20-24 and 32-36 months were presented with problem-solving situations involving toys and could interact with social learning partners who differed along the dimensions of competency and social availability. In Experiment 1, children age 20-24 months selectively sought help from a social learning partner who was high along both dimensions of competency and social availability. Experiment 2 demonstrated that by age three children not only selectively seek help from a competent and highly socially available partner, but also that some children (25%) now reliably offer help to a partner who lacks competency and social availability. Experiment 3 explored the relative impact of social availability and competency on young children's (20-24 months) selective help-seeking. Condition A served as an attempt to replicate experiment 1; in three additional conditions, children's social learning partners now exhibited novel combinations of traits along dimensions of social availability and competency. In one condition, each experimenter had one positive and one negative trait ; in two further conditions experimenters were equally high or low, respectively, along the dimension of social availability and differed only with respect to how competent they were at the task. Results replicated the findings from Experiment 1, as children preferred to seek help from a competent and socially available experimenter when she was pitted against someone lacking these traits. Children failed to show any selective help-seeking or -offering in the three remaining conditions when the contrast between experimenters was less salient. We failed to find any reliable evidence of spontaneous selective help-offering in Experiment 3.This suggests that around age 2, salient contrasts are required to elicit selective help-seeking in children. These findings are the first to suggest that young children selectively engage with social learning partners when solving problems. We discuss possible underlying causes for these constraints on selective help- seeking and propose future studies to further track the developmental trajectory of selective help-seeking and - offering during young childhood

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