Symbols and labels: Children’s awareness of social categories in a divided society

Laura K. Taylor, Jocelyn Dautel, Risa Rylander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
257 Downloads (Pure)


Aims: How and when children develop an understanding of group boundaries have implications for conflict resolution. When social divisions are not perceptually distinct, symbols become particularly important. Framed by Social Identity Development Theory, this study was designed to assess children’s categorization of symbols with conflict-related group labels.
Method: In Northern Ireland, 218 children (M=8.14, SD = 1.83, range 5-11 years old) participated in a novel task designed for this study. The sample was evenly split by child gender and community background.
Results: Children sorted symbols above chance with both the hypothesized national (i.e., British/Irish) and ethno-political (i.e., Protestant/Catholic) labels, showing a stronger association for the former. Sorting was also stronger for ingroup symbols, compared to outgroup symbols, and increased with age.
Conclusion: These findings reflect the potential role that a divided social world has on the development of children’s understanding of conflict-related groups. The results also have implications for intergroup relations among children in divided societies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1512-1526
JournalJournal of Community Psychology
Issue number5
Early online date16 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • social categories
  • intergroup relations
  • Northern Ireland
  • political conflict
  • children

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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