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Thursday, December 29, 2022

Parents’ Political Ideology Predicts How Their Children Punish

Leshin, R. A., Yudkin, D. A., Van Bavel, J. J., 
Kunkel, L., & Rhodes, M. (2022). 
Psychological Science


From an early age, children are willing to pay a personal cost to punish others for violations that do not affect them directly. Various motivations underlie such “costly punishment”: People may punish to enforce cooperative norms (amplifying punishment of in-groups) or to express anger at perpetrators (amplifying punishment of out-groups). Thus, group-related values and attitudes (e.g., how much one values fairness or feels out-group hostility) likely shape the development of group-related punishment. The present experiments (N = 269, ages 3−8 from across the United States) tested whether children’s punishment varies according to their parents’ political ideology—a possible proxy for the value systems transmitted to children intergenerationally. As hypothesized, parents’ self-reported political ideology predicted variation in the punishment behavior of their children. Specifically, parental conservatism was associated with children’s punishment of out-group members, and parental liberalism was associated with children’s punishment of in-group members. These findings demonstrate how differences in group-related ideologies shape punishment across generations.


The present findings suggest that political ideology shapes punishment across development. Counter to previous findings among adults (King & Maruga, 2009), parental conservatism (vs. liberalism) was not related to increased punishment overall. And counter to previous developmental research on belief transmission (Gelman et al., 2004), our patterns did not strengthen with age. Rather, we found that across development, the link between ideology and punishment hinged on group membership. Parental conservatism was associated with children’s punishment of out-groups, whereas parental liberalism was associated with children’s punishment of in-groups. Our findings add rich insights to our understanding of how costly punishment functions in group contexts and provide new evidence of the powerful transmission of belief systems across generations.