Like It Or Not, Even Kindergartners Care About Their Social Status


And you thought high school was vicious.

Our desire to be liked comes long before Facebook thumbs and Instagram hearts. By the time kids head to kindergarten, they begin to understand the importance of a good reputation and start to develop the social behaviors needed to achieve it, according to a new review published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences

Researchers say this is the earliest evidence of “sophisticated impression management”.


"We're finding that the kinds of complex and strategic self-presentation behavior we see in adults appear at a much younger age than previously known," said study co-author Alex Shaw, from the University of Chicago, in a statement.

The need for acceptance seems to be part of human nature, and children are no different. Kids want to be accepted by their peers and, by the time kindergarten rolls around, they’re already thinking about their reputation. This is probably because team activities – like sharing toys – teach the type of behavior needed to climb social ladders. That desire transcends cultures and probably comes from adult influences, despite different social norms and expectations.

"As a society, we're heavily focused on image construction and self-presentation, and our children get early, condensed exposure to the idea of image and social status," said co-author Ike Silver. "Children are sensitive to how those around them behave, including adults who highly value their reputations."

If you’ve seen Mean Girls, you know social hierarchy takes some serious maintenance.



It requires strategy – something kids as young as five begin to come up with in order to up their social game.

In one study, 5-year-olds became more generous when they knew they were being watched by somebody who might share with them later on, rather than someone they probably wouldn't interact with. In another study, 6-year-olds behaved well when they were in front of an experimenter, but not when they knew they could behave unfairly but still appear fair.

Young children were also more motivated to protect and maintain their perceived social status. When researchers told some they had a good reputation in the eyes of their peers, these children were less likely to cheat when tempted than their classmates without the “good” reputation, indicating they begin to "manage" their reputation and are aware of the social consequences of their behavior.


It’s not just their own reputation kids keep a tally on. They tend to “track and evaluate” the reputations of their classmates too. They were found to both speak kindly of some classmates, but also dislike those who take credit for something they didn't do.

The research doesn’t address how or why these behaviors present themselves so early on, and researchers say they hope to explore how social environments affect this “reputation awareness”.