“New research suggests prejudices may form at a much earlier age, but also offers hope that biases can be unlearned (Boston Globe, 2012).”
Discriminatory and racial behavior may be learned in children as young as three years old, according to Mahzarin Banaji (a psychologist, brain researcher, and racism and physical prejudice expert from Harvard University). Children are quick to demonstrate racist behavior and form connectivity between negative biases following exposure to episodes of discrimination.
Banaji performed a study which analyzed these perceptions in which scientists revealed how kids and adults reacted to indistinctive faces. The pictures of faces ranged in skin tone from very light to brown, in which the kids indicated whether they were happy or angry. There were 263 subjects classified as children (ages 3 to 14). Consequentially, the faces that could be presumed as white or black were shown to the young subjects. As a result, the children indicated that the faces that seemed “black” or “Asian” seemed angry, compared to the faces that they considered to be “white” were happy (unveiling the white children held a pro-white bias). Furthermore, a group of black children did not present any bias toward white or black facial expressions.
Will prejudice behaviors that children learn at a young age stick with them in future adulthood? The biggest influence of this factor is how a child analyzes in-group and out-group biases, in which “in-group members tend to evaluate and relate to the in-group favorably and to the out-group less favorably (Schneider, 2011).” The key component that is necessary for children to understand diversity is to observe different groups interrelating in a balanced and positive nature. Exposure to diversity throughout their lifespan will express that there are more important qualities that define someone other than the color of their skin, physical features, expressions, ethnicity, or gender (Boston Globe, 2012).
Learned racism is the outcome of how often an individual is personally exposed to how dissimilar cultures and races of people interact with one another. The development of negative intergroup attitudes allows us to identify the causal effect of role structure and self-identity of oneself to other groups. In conclusion, improved relations and withheld judgments may occur if a child observes positive interactions and attitudes among diverse groups.
James H. Burnett III Globe Staff. (2012, June 10). Harvard researcher says children learn racism quickly – The Boston Globe. Retrieved March 25, 2017, from https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2012/06/09/harvard-researcher-says-children-learn-racism-quickly/gWuN1ZG3M40WihER2kAfdK/story.html
Schneider, Frank W., Gruman, Jamie A.,Coutts, Larry. M. (2011). Applied Social Psychology: Intervention And Evaluation (Second Edition., PP. 7).