Children show implicit racial attitudes from a young age, research confirms

November 23, 2017, University of Bristol
Children show implicit racial attitudes from a young age, research confirms
Credit: University of Bristol

White children show signs of implicit racism from the age of five by favouring people with the same skin colour, according to new research.

Academics from the University of Bristol and York University in Toronto measured the automatic attitudes of 359 aged five to 12-years-old by testing their preferences of unknown white and black children in photographs.

While there was no evidence of automatic negativity toward black , they demonstrated automatic positivity in response to white people.

It also showed that older children, aged nine to 12, weren't automatically positive toward other white children, which suggests that individual characteristics, such as shared interests, become more important as children get older.

The findings, published in the journal Child Development, cast light on how racial prejudice develops. They have implications for families, service providers, policy makers, and researchers interested in reducing prejudice in young people.

Dr Amanda Williams, from the School of Education at the University of Bristol, said: "This pattern of results is concerning because adults who show stronger automatic bias towards white people often demonstrate less positive behaviour when interacting with .

"Our results suggest that interventions designed to decrease negative feelings toward different racial groups might not be the best approach as there is little evidence these attitudes have solidified in childhood.

"Instead, successful interventions for aged five to eight-years-old might include extending the notion of the 'in-group' – people who they view as being like them - to include people from other racial groups.

"For aged nine to 12-years-old, highlighting role models from different racial groups might help to strengthen inclusive racial attitudes. Future research is needed to examine these intervention possibilities in more detail."

This research is timely as racial and ethnic diversity is on the rise globally, meaning children will be required to successfully interact with diverse others in order to be successful in their future careers.

Across three studies, 359 children aged five to 12-years-old completed two different measures of automatic racial attitudes.

The first measure was an 'exemplar' based measure of automatic attitudes that has not previously been used to measure young children's attitudes. It allows researchers to infer the extent to which children have positive or when they see individuals from different racial groups.

The second measure was a 'category' based measure of automatic attitudes that has been used previously with young children. It involved white and black faces being shown next to each other and children must categorize the faces by race to provide information about 's attitudes.

Explore further: Reducing racial bias possible in older children, study finds

More information: Amanda Williams et al. Examining Children's Implicit Racial Attitudes Using Exemplar and Category-Based Measures, Child Development (2017). DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12991

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6 comments

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EWH
4 / 5 (4) Nov 23, 2017
And where are the data on Black children's racial attitudes? And what does that data's absence show about the researchers' racial attitudes? Of course no matter what numbers they came up with for White children, the spin would be the same. They didn't find any negative attitudes towards Black children, but in Current Year it's NOT OKAY for White children to like each other.
RobertKarlStonjek
5 / 5 (2) Nov 23, 2017
Of course people limit the list of friends and preferred acquaintances and associates by some criteria and if there is no other criteria to choose from they will choose from the one presented.

If, for instance, we identified 99 personality traits and 1 physical trait, skin colour, and arrayed those in order of influence over a person's selection of preference, then even if skin colour was the 100th to influence a person's preference, if no other clear differences are shown then they will be influenced by that criteria.

In other words we can manipulate such studies by limiting choices to those we want to show are relevant eg at the same age we could have shown similar looking children and found that boys preferred other boys as friends girls preferred girls or that children choose friends of around the same age. Would we then conclude that roots of discrimination against girls or younger children started at that age?
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2017
They've still had major environmental exposure even by the age of 3 to 5. If all white kids have known is white people, they will express that in their preferences.
This study was crash course in "political correctness" gone amok...
leetennant
5 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2017
They've still had major environmental exposure even by the age of 3 to 5. If all white kids have known is white people, they will express that in their preferences.
This study was crash course in "political correctness" gone amok...


While I don't agree with your final sentence, my problem with their conclusion is that "interventions" are only going to highlight racial differences. What people need is exposure. They need to socialise with a wide variety of people from a very young age. That's the only way they learn that most people are pretty much the same.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2017
Kittens that are not handled during a well-known crucial phase of their development that lasts only a few weeks will not develop affinity for humans and therefore will not be good pets.

Humans that are not socialized with other humans who have different skin color during a currently unknown crucial phase of their development that lasts some very short period of time will not develop the ability to accept persons of different skin color as members of our society and will not therefore be good members of our society.

We kill the kittens.

Just sayin'.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Nov 24, 2017
They've still had major environmental exposure even by the age of 3 to 5. If all white kids have known is white people, they will express that in their preferences.
This study was crash course in "political correctness" gone amok...


While I don't agree with your final sentence, my problem with their conclusion is that "interventions" are only going to highlight racial differences. What people need is exposure. They need to socialise with a wide variety of people from a very young age. That's the only way they learn that most people are pretty much the same.

Agreed.

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