Developmental Science

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Volume 23 Issue 1 (January 2020), Pages

Thinking about multiple identities boosts children’s flexible thinking

Abstract Studies of children's developing social identification often focus on individual forms of identity. Yet, everyone has multiple potential identities. Here we investigated whether making children aware of their multifaceted identities—effectively seeing themselves from multiple angles—would promote their flexible thinking. In Experiment 1, 6‐ to 7‐year‐old children (N = 48) were assigned to either a Multiple‐Identities condition where they were led to consider their multiple identities (e.g. friend, neighbor) or to a Physical‐Traits condition where they considered their multiple physical attributes (e.g. legs, arms). Children in the Multiple‐Identity condition subsequently expressed greater flexibility at problem‐solving and categorization than children in the Physical‐Traits condition. Experiment 2 (N = 72) replicated these findings with a new sample of 6‐ to 7‐year‐old children and demonstrated that a Multiple‐Identity mindset must be self‐relevant. Children who were led to think about another child's multiple identities did not express as much subsequent creative thinking as did children who thought about their own multiple identities. Experiment 3 (N = 76) showed that a Mmultiple‐Identity framework may be particularly effective when the identities are presented via generic language suggesting that they are enduring traits (in this case, identities depicted as noun phrases rather than verbal phrases). These findings illustrate that something as simple as thinking about one's identity from multiple angles could serve as a tool to help reduce rigid thinking, which might increase open‐mindedness in a society that is becoming increasingly diverse.

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