Psychology ETDs


Jin Xiaoshen

Publication Date



The primary goal of this study was to investigating the extent to which young preschoolers (e.g., 3-year-olds) understand identity in terms of what an object does rather than in terms of either what the object looks like or what its inside properties are. My primary guiding research questions are on what basis do preschoolers construct identity judgments. Unlike previous research, which has focused primarily on one pair of qualities (insides/outsides), this study includes diverse pairs in order to investigate different levels/qualities of organization that characterize preschoolers judgments of identity constancy. I predicted that a transition may occur between the ages of 3- and 5-years-old: a shift from a focus on behavior/action to a focus on insides as foundational to identity judgments. One hundred and seventy-four 3- and 5-year-olds recruited through 11 area preschools participated in one out of 3 phases of testing session. This study was able to access the organization structure and developmental patterns in preschoolers' identity judgments under two analytic strategies: independent phase analysis and across phase analysis. The results suggest that 3- and 5-years-old do not seem to consider behavior/action as central to identity in a causal paradigm. I failed to replicate Sobel et al. (2007) in the context of Phase 1, and I found alternative developmental pathways in terms of consistency in preschoolers responding. Five-year-olds show consistency in their responding, but this consistency is not in one direction (e.g., essentialist thoughts) as Sobel et al. suggested. The results also point to the possibility that younger preschoolers (e.g., 3-year-olds) are still in a transition period. Further research is needed to investigate which developmental patterns are more legitimate as a representation of preschoolers' identity judgments. Sobel et al's study, in its original methodology, needs to be replicated with more economically and educationally diverse samples as these two factors seem play a role.

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First Advisor

Witherington, David

First Committee Member (Chair)

Ruthruff, Eric

Second Committee Member

Verney, Steven

Third Committee Member

Armstrong, Jan




Identity, Preschooler, Development

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