From an early age, children recognize that people belong to social groups. However, not all groups are structured in the same way. The current study asked whether children recognize and distinguish among different decision-making structures. If so, do they prefer some decision-making structures over others? In these studies, children were told stories about two groups that went camping. In the hierarchical group, one character made all the decisions; in the egalitarian group, each group member made one decision. Without being given explicit information about the group’s structures, 6- to 8-year-old children, but not 4- and 5-year-old children, recognized that the two groups had different decision-making structures and preferred to interact with the group where decision-making was shared. Children also inferred that a new member of the egalitarian group would be more generous than a new member of the hierarchical group. Thus, from an early age, children’s social reasoning includes the ability to compare social structures, which may be foundational for later complex political and moral reasoning.

This content is only available as a PDF.

Author notes

Competing Interests: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

ES now works for the Toyota Research Institute.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For a full description of the license, please visit

Supplementary data