The development of children's understanding of levels of authority in the middle-childhood years.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
A cognitive-developmental perspective was adopted to investigate children's understanding of the four levels of authority; political, positional, familial and peer. The Authority Picture-Story Measure and three Structural Tasks (Serration, Class Inclusion, Multiplicative Classification) were developed to assess children’s ability to recognize the legitimate authority figure in a complex authority situation and their ability to perform logical operations with authority concepts. Thirty subjects at each of three age 1evels, 5, 8 and 11, were administered the tasks in individual interviews. Performance on the Authority measure increased significantly (p<001) at age 8 and age 11. By age 8 children could recognize the legitimate authority figure in a complex authority situation and the type of authority, power or expertise, vested in the authority figure. Significant difference between 8- and 11-year performance were predominantly accounted for by qualitative differences in children's reasoning about the type of authority on which the authority situation was based. Performance on the three Structural Tasks increased significantly at age 8 (p <001) and not at age 11. Moderate and significant, positive correlations were obtained between performance on the Authority measure and performance on the Class Inclusion and Multiplicative Classification tasks at ages 8 and 11, but not age 5. It was concluded that the 5-year-old’s inability to differentiate levels of authority was related to his incapacity to perform basic logical operations. The influence of experiential factors was evident in response patterns and it was suggested that a cognitive-developmental perspective would be enriched through a study of the meanings children project on to the authority relations they experience.