Nowadays adoption is a widespread phenomenon, with a vast diffusion both in its national and international forms (Fadiga, 2003). However, only a few studies investigated knowledge associated to this concept in children (e.g., Newman, Roberts, & Syré, 1993). Therefore, this work explores the spontaneous representation of adoption, via the analysis of definitions produced by different age children and adults. We took into account the Social Representation Theory (Moscovici, 1961), according to which a social representation is a socio-cognitive system related to one aspect of the world, shared by a community with the function to guide actions (Gruev-Vintila & Rouquette, 2007). We hypothesized that definitions would have been more plausible and richer at increasing ages. Moreover, we explored the role of knowing adopted persons as a factor fostering complexity of representations; thus, we hypothesized that participants who declared they knew adopted persons would have been characterized by more plausible and richer definitions. The participants were 162 children – aged 6, 9 and 12 years – and 40 adults, who gave, respectively, oral and written definitions of the term adoption. Chi square tests and ANOVAs were run. The results suggest that plausibility of definitions was higher as age increased and for participants who knew adoptees. Moreover, definitions were longer as age increased. Finally, complexity of themes – in terms of reference to aspects pertaining to antecedents and consequences of adoption – increased with age and was associated to knowledge of adoptees. On the whole, this study indicates that representation of adoption is more complex at increasing ages but also for people who are characterized by direct knowledge of adopted persons. Applied implications can be drawn, considering the relevance of direct contact with adoptees in educational fields.
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