Political Ideology in Early Childhood: Making the Case for Studying Young Children in Political Psychology

Michal Reifen-Tagar, Andrei Cimpian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research in political psychology largely ignores early childhood. This is likely due to the assumption that young children lack the cognitive capacity and social understanding needed for political thought. Challenging this assumption, we argue that research with young children is both possible and important for political psychologists. We focus on the topic of political ideology to demonstrate our argument. We review recent evidence revealing that social cognition in early childhood—and even infancy—is already oriented toward group living in ways that set the foundation of political thought. Young children notice key dimensions of group living (e.g., group boundaries, hierarchies, norms) and use them to guide their reasoning and behavior. Beyond these basic proto-political sensitivities, young children also display proto-political attitudes: valenced and/or prescriptive cognitions about dimensions of group living that have political significance (e.g., disliking nonconforming group members, believing that hierarchy between groups is wrong). Even more reminiscent of mainstream political psychology, young children's proto-political sensitivities and attitudes exhibit systematic individual differences that can roughly be mapped onto three ideological orientations common among adults: authoritarianism, social dominance, and hawkish ideology. We discuss ways in which research with young children is critical for a complete understanding of adult political psychology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-105
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue numberS1
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • authoritarianism
  • child development
  • early childhood
  • hawkishness
  • political ideology
  • social dominance orientation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science and International Relations


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