Heralding the authoritarian? Orientation toward authority in early childhood

Michal Reifen Tagar, Christopher M Federico, Kristen E Lyons, Steven Ludeke, Melissa A Koenig

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


In the research reported here, we examined whether individual differences in authoritarianism have expressions in early childhood. We expected that young children would be more responsive to cues of deviance and status to the extent that their parents endorsed authoritarian values. Using a sample of 43 preschoolers and their parents, we found support for both expectations. Children of parents high in authoritarianism trusted adults who adhered to convention (vs. adults who did not) more than did children of parents low in authoritarianism. Furthermore, compared with children of parents low in authoritarianism, children of parents high in authoritarianism gave greater weight to a status-based "adult = reliable" heuristic in trusting an ambiguously conventional adult. Findings were consistent using two different measures of parents' authoritarian values. These findings demonstrate that children's trust-related behaviors vary reliably with their parents' orientations toward authority and convention, and suggest that individual differences in authoritarianism express themselves well before early adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)883-892
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • authoritarianism
  • childhood development
  • early childhood
  • epistemic trust
  • heuristics
  • individual differences
  • learning
  • parent-child correspondence
  • personal values
  • selective trust
  • values


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