Children and Prejudice

Abstract Over the last century, researchers have been debating whether prejudices are inborn in children, researchers then found that children are in fact prejudiced, but debate arises about how they become prejudiced. Some studies suggested that children are born with being prejudiced and that it is innate and natural, where as other studies argue that prejudice behavior are learnt socially off parents, family, peers and the social environment in which they grew up in.

Theories have been devised to help explain the prejudice processes of children by in-group and out-group behavior; there is the Developmental Intergroup Theory and the Social Identity Developmental theory. A new debate has been surfacing about the decrease of prejudice at the age of seven and no decrease of prejudice. One Australian study shows consistency with children of American and Canada, but some studies show no racial prejudice towards other races in children.

Children and Prejudice

Question of whether children are prejudiced has long been debated. Past and recent researches have found that there are in fact prejudice tendencies in children and that it can be present at the age of three to four years, but it is unclear how children become prejudiced. Definition of prejudice according to Allport (1954) is that prejudice is “thinking ill of others without sufficient warrant” (As cited in Eagly, xxxx, p. 45) and according to Kosslyn and Rosenberg (2004) prejudice is “an attitude (generally negative) toward members of a group” (p.G-7).

In the course of research on the prejudice of children, there has been debate over the “relative role of cognition versus environmental-learning factors…” (Gutman & Hickson, 1996, p. 448). Several theories have tried to explain the prejudice in children, for example, the Developmental Intergroup Theory (Bigler & Liben, 1996) and the Social Identity Development Theory (Nesdale, Durkin, Maass & Griffiths, 2005).

Several measures have been used to measure racial attitudes of children towards other races such as the Preschool Racial Attitudes Measure and the Multiresponse Racial Attitude measure (Aboud, 2003). Less then half a century ago, some social theorists believed that prejudice are inborn in people and that it is inherent and instinctive, it was considered natural to not like people who differ physically and like people who are the similar to one self; but research in the last three decades they have discarded those theories. Researchers are now convinced that children are prejudiced by learning it socially, children observe, and are influenced by the “existence of patterns in the culture in which they live” (Clark, 1955, p.17).

This being that, children believed not to be born with tendencies to be prejudiced but learn it socially by how they live. Consistent with Clark, Bigler and Liben (2007), believes that young children are often seen as being unaffected by the negative biases of adults, but many studies show that prejudice exist by the age of four years old. Allport (1958) states that children start to notice physical characteristics that mark a racial group membership.

Like researches above, findings of Kowalski’s (2003) research, they have found that children as young as preschoolers start to have negative attitudes to other racial/out ‘ groups, they have a tendency to say positive statements about same race and negative statements about other races (Aboud, 1987; Aboud & Sherry, 1984, as cited in Kowalski, 2003). Until quite recently, there were differences of opinion concerning the age at which children start to develop and express racial prejudices.

According to a recent research of white kindergarten children and African-American children, they show a preference for skin color. These children were asked a few questions and they showed a great awareness of skin color, this finding supports the idea that racial awareness is present as young as the age of three (Clark,1970). Some children as young as three years if age begins to express begin to express racial and religious attitudes similar to those held by adults in their society.

The racial and religious attitudes of sixth-graders are barely different from the attitudes of high-school students. There is general agreement that children can be prejudiced, but what factors there is, is unclear. It is debated between environmental-learning and cognition development. Research on cognition development tries explaining prejudice at different ages of cognitive development and the Environmental-learning explains that children and discrimination is not rooted in the child but it is learnt through a social context.

According to Allport (1988), children are prejudiced because children “filter and distort environmental input”, this means children are prejudiced due to the lack of cognitive capacity at a certain age and that children have immature thoughts (As cited in Gutman & Hickson, 1996, p. 448). From the Social/ Environmental Learning theory perspective, racial ideas of children are not concrete, more easily changed, than racial ideas of adults. It is probable; too, that racial attitudes and behavior are learnt off adults.

The racial and religious attitudes of a young child may become more positive or more negative as he/she matures, according to the social environment of the child. The direction these attitudes will take form of expression, will be determined by the type of experiences that the child has grown up in (Clark, 1970). In line with Clark (1970), some researchers suggest that children self identify with parents and learn off them (Sinclair, Dun & Lowery, 2004).

Social Learning Theory argues that children develop beliefs and behaviors by mimicking off an important model in their life, usually family and peers (Bandura, 1997, as cited in Sinclair, Dunn & Lowery, 2004). Likewise, attachment theory suggests that children internalize their parents’ expectations. Sinclair et al (2004) research provided evidence that parents’ racial attitudes does in fact influence both their children’s implicit and explicit racial prejudice, also their results suggest that children that identify with parents adopt the racial attitudes of their parents more on an implicit than explicit level.

In fact parents’ implicit racial attitudes may have a bigger influence on children than their explicit racial attitudes because parents are unaware of implicit biases, it is unconscious and therefore, unable to consciously stop themselves from showing prejudice attitudes. This research also suggests that, parents’ racial attitudes may be particularly influential early in childhood, but peers and other form of social environmental attitudes can influence children more as they get older. Some researchers suggest that the influence of environmental-learning factors, in addition to cognitive factors, be given more serious research consideration.

This would mean, for example, taking into account the fact that on the basis of their differing exposure to group information, children form different schemata (cognitive structures containing information about groups e. g. , Bem, 1981). According to Bergen (???? ) family affects the development of prejudice in children through modeling, which children observes and imitates important role models, Children around seven to nine years of age can show prejudice behavior without a model, and where as younger children do not understand rules, there fore they look at adult models (Bergen,????

), also when children adopt their parents prejudices they emotionally emerge with their parents likes and dislikes. Bergen (???? ) concluded that a prejudiced child goes through several stages, such as, fear of strangers, racial awareness, identification with in-group, identification with parent’s emotion and total rejections of out-group, and seen later on this is similar to the Social Identity Developmental Theory phase’s.

Researchers believe that the Social Learning Theory is weakening; researchers are now turning to the basic cognitive processes of a child’s prejudice behavior (Aboud & Sherry, 1984; Bigler &Liben, 1993). Also, Bigler and Liben (2007) suggest that Social Learning theory does not explain prejudice in children, Social Learning Theory is stating that human behavior is not innate but learnt through important/ appropriate models (Vaughan & Hogg, 2008) . A group norm study used the Social identity-developmental theory, which has four phases.

The first one is undifferentiated (two to three years of age) followed by ethnic awareness (ethnic awareness begins at three years old off labeling from parents), and then ethnic preference (the child learns that he or she is apart of a social group) and then ethnic prejudice (children around the age of seven has crystallized attitudes towards certain races, but other research suggest that at this age prejudice decreases) (Nesdale et al, 2005; Nesdale, 2004).

In this research, the findings were consistent with the Social Identity-Developmental Theory Children’s prejudice phases, they found that seven year old biases of out-groups are different to those of a younger age and is more stable; Nesdale et al (2005) suggests that children at this age should be a the concrete operational stage, which allows them to have more stable thinking and crystallized. Prejudices towards certain type of people are not known why, children only notice certain cues, for example, gender rather then a handicapped person.

Research indicates that young children tend to focus on perceptually outstanding characteristics in a person (perceptional cues being race, gender, age & attractiveness, etc). Children observe the characteristics of physical appearance. They notice perceptual similarities and differences among those who live, work & socialize together. They then gather the social groups they observe which must have been caused by meaningful differences between groups (Bigler & Liben, 2007).

The new theoretical model by Bigler and Liben (2007), called the Developmental Intergroup Theory (DIT), tries to establish this classification skills in children that affects stereotyping. This theory is combined by two theories, first being the inter-group theory, which is social identification within a group (Tajfel & Turner, 1986) and second one being the Self-categorization Theory (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher & Wetherall, 1987).

Their DIT theory proposes that salience grouping increases in children when adults label groups or group members (Bigler & Liben, 2007 “Racial prejudice is a predisposition to react favorably to members of a racial group, because of their group affiliation” (Aboud, 1988, p. 48). The majority of child racial prejudice studies have all been researched on children in North America.

As stated above one research suggests that children’s prejudice is crystallized at the age of seven and does not decline but other research tends to suggest it does, according to Gutman and Hickson (1996) both can happen because at that age children have more developed mature mind and that because of that it can seem like it decreases because the child has a crystallized conception of a group in their mind.

According to Katz (1975) the decrease happen due to social desirability’s and that prejudice is not accepted and according to Aboud (1993) the decline happens because of maturing cognitive development of the child (Augoustinos & Rosewarne, 2001). Ausgosustinos and Rosewarne (2001) results of their research indicated that like the results of North American studies on children, Euro-Australian children in early years of middle school start to show less prejudice towards other groups than the younger children did.

North American children prejudices are similar to the children in Australia. Consistent with Doyle and Aboud’s (1995) research on North American children who showed less racial prejudice towards out-groups as they get older can also be seen in Euro-Australian children, they found that older Euro-Australian start to show less racial prejudice towards Aborigines, but as seen later other Australian studies are not consistent with this finding (As cited in Augoustinos & Rosewarne, 2001).

Some measures used to measure racial attitudes are the Preschool Racial Attitude Measure (PRAM) and the Multiresponse Racial Attitude (MRA), these look for racial attitudes and preferences in young children and also to find the in-group and out-group attitudes in children. In Aboud’s (1988) finding that the MRA has implications, it goes beyond in finding in-group and out-group results, it doesn’t separate the groups apart and that questions were to open ended and positively worded.

Another concern in this field of research is that, overseas research has mainly found that at the age of seven prejudice declines, but some of the findings in Australian studies have found not consistency of declining prejudice at that age. Another problem in Australian studies is that some children do not show bias towards other races (Augoustinos and Reynolds, 2001); this problem could be further looked in future studies.

Overall, Aboud’s twenty years (1988) that children are prejudiced and there is general agreement in other researches that children can be prejudiced and that is can start from an early age around three to five years, there is still a debate on whether there are cognitive developmental factors or social learning factors; contemporary researchers are starting to try and explain children and prejudice by using cognitive developmental approaches. There has been debate over weather prejudice declines at seven or are just more implicit and repress because of social undesirability of showing prejudiced behavior.

Measures used for researching child prejudice should be looked again and also further studies of child prejudices over different countries as most researches on child prejudice are studied in America and Canada; Perhaps future studies should look at England, Australia and some other multicultural countries in Europe. References Aboud, F. E. (2003). The formation of in-group favoritism and out-group prejudice in young children: Are they distinct attitudes? Developmental Psychology, 39, 48-60. Augoustinos, M. , & Reynolds, K. J. (2001). The development of prejudice in children. D. Garvey (Eds.), Understanding prejudice, racism, and social conflict (pp. 57-73). London: SAGE publications. Augoustinos, M. , & Rosewarne, D. L. (2001).

Stereotype knowledge and prejudice in children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 19, 143-156. Bergen, T. J. (2001). The Development of Prejudice in Children. Education, 122, 154-163. Bigler, R. S. , & Liben. L. S. (2007) Developmental Intergroup Theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 132-166. Clark, K. B. (1970). The problem of Prejudice. Prejudice and your Child. (pp. 17-24). Boston: Beacon Press. Eagly, A. H. (in press).

Prejudice: Toward a more inclusive understanding. In A. H. Eagly, R. M. Baron, & V. L. Hamilton (Eds. ), The social psychology of group identity and social conflict: Theory, application, and practice. Washington, DC: APA Books. Gutman, D. B. , & Hickson, F. (1996). The relationship between racial attitudes and social-cognitive development in children: An Australian study. Developmental Psychology, 12, 448-456. Kosslyn, S. M. , & Rosenberg, R. S. (2004). Psychology (pp. G-7). Sydney: Pearson. Kowalski, K. (2003). The Emergence of Ethnic and Racial Attitudes in Preschool-Aged Children. The Journal of Social Psychology, 143, 677-690.

Nesdale, A. R. (2004) Development of Prejudice in Children. In M. Augoustinos & K. Reynolds (Eds), The Psychology of Prejudice and Racism (pp. 1-12), Sage Nesdale, D. , Durkin, K. , Maass, A. , & Griffiths, J. (2005). Group Norm, Threat, and Children’s Racial Prejudice. Child Development, 76, 652-663. Sinclair, S. , Dunn, E. , & Lowery, B. S. (2005). The relationship between parental racial attitudes and children’s implicit prejudice. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 283-289. Vaughan, G. M. , & Hogg, M. A. (2008). Aggression. Introduction to Social Psychology (pp. 452-453). Australia: Pearson.