Self-evaluation in young children

Monogr Soc Res Child Dev. 1992;57(1):1-98.


A series of studies was conducted to examine the development of self-evaluation in children aged 1-5 years. Developmental changes in children's reactions to achievement-related outcomes were assessed in a variety of contexts, using different tasks and different criteria for success. The first study of 1-3-year-olds revealed an increased social orientation after the age of 21 months. Only children over this age were more likely to look up at the experimenter after they had produced an outcome themselves than after the same outcome had been produced by the experimenter. These older children were also more likely than younger children to call their mothers' attention to their achievements in a free-play situation. In a second study, on a task with visibly salient success versus failure outcomes, children aged 2-5 years responded to success with positive affect (e.g., smiling) and to failure with avoidance reactions (e.g., looking away from the experimenter). Praise enhanced children's positive affective reactions to success, but its effect was modest. In the final study, winning or losing on a competitive task was not understood by children below age 33 months and had no effect on their affective reactions to the task. In contrast, winning enhanced older children's pleasure in completing the task. Three stages are proposed in the development of self-evaluation. In the first stage, children experience joy in causality, but they lack the cognitive representational skills required for self-evaluation in a self-reflective sense, and they do not anticipate others' reactions to their performance. In the second stage, beginning before the age of 2 years, children anticipate adult reactions, seeking positive reactions to their successes and endeavoring to avoid negative reactions to failure. The proposed third stage involves a gradual internalization of external reactions, with children beginning to evaluate their performance and react emotionally to success and failure independently of their expectations of adult reactions. Although all studies focused on achievement outcomes, the development of self-evaluation in the moral domain may parallel this developmental sequence proposed for the achievement domain. It is also proposed that caretakers' reactions to rule violations might engender concerns about meeting adult expectations in achievement contexts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Child, Preschool
  • Competitive Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Peer Group
  • Personality Development*
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Environment*