Prior work indicates that preschoolers (ages 4-5) maintain high self-appraisals and behavioral engagement after performing less well than their peers. This study tested the hypothesis that relative failure has more negative consequences for preschoolers when they interpret achievement differences as being tied to membership in social categories (e.g., when members of different categories have different achievement levels), as opposed to variations in individual effort. Preschoolers (N = 58) were randomly assigned to receive feedback that a same-gender, other-gender, or gender-unidentified peer performed better than they did on a novel task. Experiences of failure relative to other-gender peers resulted in impaired performance on a subsequent task trial, as well as lack of improvement in self-evaluations after children received more positive feedback. These findings have implications for the origins of social comparisons, category-based reasoning, and the development of gender stereotypes and achievement motivation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas