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Master of Science




Hayden, Elizabeth P.


The dominance behavioural system (DBS) is a biologically based system that underpins individual differences in motivation for dominance and power. However, little is known about the DBS in childhood. In a pilot study aimed at developing a behavioural coding system for dominance, a key facet of the DBS, we collected and coded observational data from 58 children, assessed at ages 3 and 5-6. Between these ages, dominance was moderately stable, to a degree comparable to other early child temperament traits. Consistent with study hypotheses, boys were more dominant than girls, and dominance was negatively associated with children’s behavioural inhibition, effortful control, and internalizing symptoms. These results provide initial support for the validity and developmental sensitivity of an objective coding system for assessing facets of the DBS in early childhood. Ultimately, the use of this coding system will facilitate future studies of how early DBS predicts psychological adjustment later in life.

Summary for Lay Audience

Humans vary in their motivation for dominance and power. This variation has been linked to various mental health problems in adults; for example, those who have an excessive desire to avoid dominance and power may be more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. However, less research has been done on childhood dominance, leaving it unclear when meaningful differences in dominance emerge. We therefore measured dominance in young children through a new method in which children were rated on dominance during standardized laboratory. We found that dominance was relatively stable across a time period of 2 years in early childhood (between the ages of 3 and 5-6) and that children’s dominance, like dominance in adults, was negatively associated with depression and anxiety. We also found that boys tended to be more dominant than girls. These results a) support the use of observational coding as a valid indicator of dominance in children, and b) provide information about how patterns of dominance emerge early in life. Our hope is that this coding method will facilitate future studies of how early dominance predicts mental health functioning later in life.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.