Flags are conceptual representations that can prime nationalism and allegiance to one’s group. Investigating children’s understanding of conflict-related ethnic flags in divided societies sheds light on the development of national categories. We explored the development of children’s awareness of, and preferences for, ethnic flags in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, and the Republic of North Macedonia. Children displayed early categorization of, and ingroup preferences for, ethnic flags. By middle-childhood, children’s conflict-related social categories shaped systematic predictions about other’s group-based preferences for flags. Children of minority-status groups demonstrated more accurate flag categorization and were more likely to accurately infer others’ flag preferences. While most Balkan children preferred divided versus integrated ethnic symbols, children in the Albanian majority group in Kosovo demonstrated preferences for the new subordinate national flag. We discuss the implications of children’s ethno-national flag categories on developing conceptualizations of nationality and the potential for shared national symbols to promote peace.
- social cognition
- Intergroup conflict