Toward a Developmental Science of Politics

Volume 84, Issue 3, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development

by Meagan M. Patterson Ph.D., Rebecca S. Bigler, Ph.D., Erin Pahlke, Ph.D., Christia Spears Brown, Ph.D., Amy Roberson Hayes, Ph.D., M. Chantal Ramirez, M.A., and Andrew A. Nelson, M.A.

Included in this issue:


Cover of Monographs of SRCD 84.3

Arguing for the value of a developmental science of politics, the authors (Patterson, Bigler, Pahlke, Brown, Hayes, Ramirez, & Nelson) review past research on political knowledge, attitudes, and behavior, and develop an integrative framework for understanding the factors influencing political development. They provide a rationale for studying major political events through a social-justice perspective, implementing their approach by interviewing a racially, ethnically, and geographically diverse sample of 5- to 11-year-old children (N = 187) shortly before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Children demonstrated interest in and knowledge about the election and about candidates’ policies, and commented on candidates’ personal qualities, both positive and negative. Many children were ignorant about women’s underrepresentation in US politics and the suffrage movement. Implications for civic education are discussed.

About the Authors

Meagan M. Patterson

Department of Educational Psychology, University of Kansas

Meagan M. Patterson, Ph.D. is an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Kansas. Her research interests focus on the development of personal and group identity and the implications of identity for academic, political, and civic engagement.

Rebecca S. Bigler

Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin

Rebecca S. Bigler, Ph.D. is a professor emeritx of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. Ze studies social cognition, including the causes, consequences, and prevention of stereotyping and prejudice among children.

Erin Pahlke

Department of Psychology, Whitman College

Erin Pahlke, Ph.D. is an associate professor of psychology at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Her research interests focus on children’s and adolescents’ understanding of discrimination and their experiences with racial and gender socialization.

Christia Spears Brown

Department of Psychology, University of Kentucky

Christia Spears Brown, Ph.D. is a professor of developmental and social psychology at the University of Kentucky. Her research focuses on children’s perceptions of discrimination and the development of social group stereotypes (on the basis of gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and immigration status). 

Amy Roberson Hayes

Department of Psychology & Counseling, University of Texas at Tyler

Amy Roberson Hayes, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Psychology in the College of Education and Psychology at the University of Texas at Tyler. Dr. Hayes researches the gender-differentiated pathways of occupational values, interests, and achievement throughout the lifespan.

M. Chantal Ramirez

Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin

Mayra Chantal Ramirez, M.A. is a doctoral student in developmental psychology at The University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on early language development, bilingual language processing and development, and racial/ethnic attitudes in Latinx children.

Andrew A. Nelson

Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation; University of Kentucky

Andrew Nelson, M.A. is a doctoral student in the Department of Education Policy Studies and Evaluation at the University of Kentucky (UK) whose interest includes the democratic and justice-oriented implications of educational program evaluation.



Overview: Toward a Developmental Science of Politics | Monograph Matters 84.3
How much do children really know about politics? How do they develop their own political opinions? A study co-authored by Meagan M. Patterson, Rebecca Bigler, Erin Pahlke, Christia Spears Brown, Amy Roberson Hayes, M. Chantal Ramirez, and Andrew Nelson describes factors that are likely to affect children’s political development and reports the results of a study of five- to eleven-year-old children’s views of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Dr. Patterson highlights select findings from this study, including the role of media and parents in shaping a child’s understanding and attitudes of politics.

Methodological Lessons: How to Integrate Diversity in Study Samples | Monograph Matters 84.3
Based on methods used in a study published in the Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, M. Chantal Ramirez (University of Texas at Austin) discusses how and why to include Latinx participants in developmental science research.

Teaching Resources

Below are materials related to political development in children, including discussion questions, presentations, and project ideas. These can be used within the classroom or for practical applications. They were created by the authors of this Monograph and can be used in conjunction with the Monograph or on their own.