Social statistics: Children use statistical reasoning to guide their inferences about the scope of social behavior.

To acquire social conventional knowledge, children must distinguish between behaviors that are practiced by groups of people versus those that are practiced by individuals. How do children infer the scope (i.e., level of generality) of social behavior? Prior work has addressed this question by focusing on the cues or instruction that adults provide to children. The current research takes a novel approach by examining whether children form scope inferences on the basis of statistical evidence alone. Two studies with 4- to 5-year-olds (N = 70) and 7- to 8-year-olds (N = 40) investigated whether children track and integrate different forms of statistical evidence to infer the scope of social behaviors. Children were presented with combinations of frequency evidence (i.e., constancy of a behavior) and negative evidence (i.e., an alternative behavior) that together indicated whether a behavior was practiced by a wide group of people, a narrower group of people, or a specific individual. Children’s inferences about who else would demonstrate a behavior were consistent with the evidence they observed, though younger children required a more supportive version of the task. To support their inferences for shared behaviors, older children provided conventional explanations whereas younger children often provided psychological explanations. Together, the findings suggest an alternative account of how children acquire social conventional knowledge above and beyond any direct instruction or overt social cues provided by adults. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)