Young Authoritarians? Trends and Individual Differences in Preschoolers' Perceptions of Adult Authority
Although traditional stage theories (e.g., Piaget, 1965) postulate that preschool age children are guided entirely by punishment avoidance and absolute deference to authority, more recent research suggests that their concepts of adult authority are complex and vary based on social cognitive domain and the content of the commands (e.g., Tisak, 1986). Also, although past studies have shown that the majority of children will reject adult authority in certain contexts, much individual variation between children has been observed (e.g., Laupa, 1994). The current study expanded upon past research by exposing children to multiple typical and atypical commands across domains, while also testing for individual differences based on two forms of parental authoritarianism. Results showed that children as young as four reject commands that go against established moral or conventional norms, and sometimes reject commands in the personal domain. This pattern grew stronger with age. High right-wing authoritarianism was a significant predictor of more authoritarian parenting style, and also predicted lower child support for authority in typical conventional scenarios.