Thanks to APF

Kathleen Corriveau, EdD

Are children swayed by other people's opinions in the same way as adults? How do they decide who's trustworthy? And how does culture play a role?

These are among the questions Kathleen Corriveau, EdD, has explored with the American Psychological Foundation's (APF) Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Fellowship, which she won in 2009 while pursuing her doctorate in human development and psychology at Harvard University.

gradPSYCH talked to Corriveau, now an assistant professor of human development at Boston University, about what answers she found and how the award has shaped her career.

Can you describe your research funded by APF?

The Koppitz fellowship allowed me to explore how children view consensus information to decide whether or not groups of people are trustworthy sources. To find out, I conducted several different experiments. First, we asked whether preschoolers were sensitive to consensus information when determining informant credibility. Second, we asked the extent to which children privilege consensus information over and above conflicting perceptual information. Finally, we explored cultural differences in the relative weighting of these two cues. We showed children sets of three lines of varying lengths and asked them to tell us which line was the longest. Then, we asked them to watch a video of three informants who were told to point to the line they thought was the longest. All three informants pointed to the same (shorter) line. We repeated the informants' choice, and then invited the children to state which line they thought was longest. We were interested in whether children modified their initial response based on the information from an (incorrect) consensus.

What were the major findings?

One major finding was that preschoolers behave similarly to adults when faced with consensus information that is in conflict with their own perceptions. In a similar adult study, conducted by [psychologist Solomon] Asch, adults would modify their responses on about one-third of trials, suggesting that they were influenced by this incorrect response.

That's exactly what we found with our 3- and 4-year-olds, which was really surprising because it suggested that this deference to the group happens very early on in development.

We also found that deference to the group varies based on environmental or cultural experience. Our Asian-American children deferred to the group about 60 percent of the time, compared with our Caucasian-American children who deferred at about half that rate.

The findings were published in two journal articles: Journal of Cognition and Culture, 2013, and Developmental Psychology, 2010.

How did the fellowship help your career?

Before this grant, my research focused mainly on typical social cognitive development in the preschool years. However, the fact that there were such clear differences between our Asian-American and Caucasian-American preschoolers suggested that simply collapsing across cultural groups might mask important differences in social interactions. Now my lab focuses on individual differences in social interaction related to race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status and systematically thinks about how [children's] interactions with others are influenced by early interactions with adults in home environments.

We're now starting to look at parent-child relationships more closely to determine how parent-child interactions might be related to default learning styles in young children. We believe that these interactions might help to explain some of the differences that we're seeing across these cultural groups.

What advice do you have for grad students applying for grants?

Make sure that you start writing your grant early, and come up with a really clear and compelling research question. Spend a lot of time making sure that it's relevant to society. And don't be afraid to share your draft with colleagues and mentors in order to get their feedback early on.

— Colleen Wilson

Is there an APF grant in your future?

Each year, the American Psychological Foundation awards more than 45 grants worth $700,000. Find out if there's one right for you.