This project examined children’s and adolescents’ reasoning about the exclusion of others in peer and school contexts. Participants (80 8-year-olds, 85 11-year-olds, 74 14-year-olds, and 73 20- year-olds) were asked to judge and reason about the acceptability of exclusion from novel groups by children and school principals. Three contexts for exclusion between two groups were systematically varied:
- Unequal economic status
- Geographical location,
- A control (no reason provided for group differences).
Regardless of condition, participants believed that exclusion was less acceptable in peer contexts than in school contexts and when children were excluded rather than principals. Participants also used more moral and less social conventional reasoning for peer contexts than for school contexts.
In terms of condition, whereas 8-year-olds rated exclusion based on unequal economic status as less acceptable than exclusion based on geographical location or no reason when enacted by a principal, 14-year-olds rated the unequal economic condition as more acceptable than the other two contexts. The 11- and 20-year-olds did not distinguish economic status differences.
The findings suggest that children and adolescents are sensitive to context and take multiple variables into account, including the type of group difference (socioeconomic status or other reasons), authority status of the perpetrator of exclusion, and setting (school or peer group).