An attributional analysis of the effects of target status and presence of ulterior motives on children's judgments of two types of ingratiating behaviors

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The study examined children's evaluations and attributions in response to ingratiating acts directed at different targets in the presence or absence of an ulterior motive. According to an attributional analysis of ingratiation (Jones & McGillis, 1976; Jones & Wortman, 1973), attributions of enduring behavioral dispositions to ingratiators and evaluation of these ingratiators should vary as a function of presence or absence of ulterior motives and as a function of target status, because very high status targets are likely to control desirable benefits even when these are not made explicit. Ingratiators with ulterior motives and those who ingratiate high status targets should be evaluated less positively, and they should be seen as less likely to repeat their "nice" acts in other situations or to other targets. These "idealized predictions rest on the assumption of differential perception and evaluation of ingratiators ' motives under different circumstances. Children's ability to use motives in making moral evaluations of others has long been a subject of debate. However, few researchers have asked children about the dispositional implications of their moral evaluations. The present study was thus intended to examine children's evaluations and attributions in response to a morally relevant behavior (ingratiation) somewhat different from the behaviors most studies have investigated. It was expected that age-related changes in evaluation of strategic behaviors and changes in patterns of attribution would reflect a shift away from reliance on adult rules in judging acts and a corresponding increase in reliance on peer group norms. Male and female first, third, and fifth graders and an adult control group heard four stories about children who opinion conformed or did favors . The target of the acts was either a disliked (low, status) peer, a well-liked (high status) peer, or an adult (the ingratiator's teacher). Each act either occurred with no explicit ulterior motive, or it occurred after the ingratiator learned that the target controlled a benefit that the ingratiator very much desired, so that an ulterior motive was prominent. Subjects used rating scales to evaluate the ingratiators , to estimate the probability that they would repeat their acts, and to rate the effectiveness of the ingratiation. Subjects' were also asked for free response explanations of the ingratiators' behaviors, and they explained what they would do if they wanted to get a desirable benefit from one of the story targets. Favor doing was regarded far more positively than opinion conforming, and evaluation of ingratiation declined steadily with age. First graders tended to see all ingratiation as quite positive, likely to generalize, and likely to be effective. First graders were able to explain strategic favor-doing, but they had difficulty with opinion conformity. Among the other groups , motive became increasingly important with age as a determinant of both evaluations and predicted repetition of the act. Motive effects were not always in the expected direction, however. Ulterior motive opinion conformity to an adult was evaluated more positively than no ulterior motive opinion conformity, indicating that ingratiation of this target was less deplorable if the ingratiator was strongly tempted. Third graders in particular showed signs of regarding opinion conformity to an adult in a fairly favorable light. They thought an adult would be relatively likely to pick an opinion conformer to receive a desirable benefit, where- as the other age groups saw favor-doing as much more effective with an adult target. I^en asked how they themselves would try to influence a target, younger subjects of ten mentioned providing physical benefits while adults were more likely to suggest a straightforward request. The patterns of main effects seen on the measures pertaining to predictions of future behavior appeared to strongly resemble the one predicted by an attributional analysis of ingratiation. Children seemed more sensitive than adults to the power of the very high status adult target to elicit ingratiating acts . Patterns of attribution among third graders sometimes appeared more adult-like than those appearing among fifth graders . This paradoxical finding and third graders' relatively favorable responses to adult oriented opinion conformers are discussed in terms of third graders’ greater tendency to judge behavior in line with adult rules, while fifth graders may be more sensitive to peer groups norms.



This thesis was digitized as part of a project begun in 2014 to increase the number of Duke psychology theses available online. The digitization project was spearheaded by Ciara Healy.



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