Mar 17

Racism is Learned at an Early Age

Racism Learned

“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).




Oct 15

Mind If I Join You?

I love lists. I especially love “to-do” lists – not because I want to have many tasks, but because I get a certain thrill from crossing something off of my “to-do” list. I feel accomplished and a great deal of satisfaction comes over me. I find that this is consistent with my equal love for organizers. Looking at photos in the Crate & Barrel and Ikea catalogs makes me very happy. They often show idyllic office workspaces in imaginary homes. There are baskets tagged with pieces of slate and labeled in chalk for things like “Bills”, “School”, “Receipts”, etc.  I covet those offices and maybe if I win the lottery I will be able to live out my dream of a perfectly coordinated and organized workspace.  If I dig a bit deeper into why I like those images, I can see that I really prefer things to be ordered over things that are chaotic. If I look a little further and peel back the onion of my psyche even more, I can see that I often search for not only where to put things, but where to put myself. Where do I fit in?

Social psychology has developed theories about group dynamics and how people relate within a group. Social Identity Theory involves both how a person interacts as a result of their individuality (their Personal Identity), and how the individual interacts based on their awareness of their position within a group (their Social Identity) (The Pennsylvania State University World Campus, L6 P4, 2015).  Yet a different theory is that of Social Dominance. This theory suggests that humans naturally form different hierarchies across cultural and socioeconomic boundaries and that those at the top of each hierarchy gain a preponderance of the good that comes to the group (Sidanius & Pratto, 2012).  As such, those at the top of the group are eager to keep things the same within their hierarchy. After all, the top group people reap great rewards and benefits in the form of things like wealth, better education, modern conveniences, etc. Interestingly, research shows that those in the low group population within a hierarchy will accept their position within the group. The low group individuals see the value in being in the low group of a dominant hierarchy over being in the top group of a lesser hierarchy (The Pennsylvania State University World Campus L6 P5, 2015).

Thinking back to my family of origin, I can see that our roles and our “proper places” were imposed on us mostly by our parents. I am the oldest of three. My parents were careful not to assign a favorite, but each of us interacted with our parents differently. I was the peacemaker, my brother was the instigator/rebel and my sister was the free spirit. The hierarchy was clear, my parents were at the top of the pyramid and my siblings and I were the subordinates. I knew my role and where I fit in the group.  As I moved into adolescence and high school, I became part of more groups, both socially and academically. High school is where the group delineations were most clear – complete with labels such as “Goths”, “Techs”, “Band Geeks”, “Jocks”, “Richies”, etc.  Within those cliques, there were pecking orders and hierarchies. For example, since the Jocks were more popular than the Band Geeks at my school, if you were low in the hierarchy of the Band Geeks, you were exponentially less popular than the Jocks. I was a Band Geek (and I still am – but now I get paid to be one!).  As a sophomore, it was clear that the seniors were in charge of the group – even going so far as to pass along duties like sorting music and cleaning the practice field after rehearsals so that they could spend more time socializing with their peers. It was easy to tolerate the grunt work because I knew that I wouldn’t remain a sophomore forever. One day, I would be a senior and the power would shift.  Fortunately for me, Hollywood created a movie that perfectly (yes, perfectly) described my high school experience: (warning: this clip contains some graphic language)


(Hughes, 1985)

Little did I know, these cliques would linger into adulthood. They changed names and appearances – the cliques became hierarchies. As I got older, I could see that everywhere I turned, there were more dividing lines. I could see it between people of wealth and people with less financial stability. I could see it between those of certain ethnic backgrounds and those that identified as Caucasian. I could see it between upper management and entry-level employees. I could see it between those in political power and those that were oppressed. I could see it between those that follow a certain spiritual path and those that have a different experience of human existence. In all of those groups, some individuals rise to the top (the in-group) and some are rank-and-file members (the out-group). At first, it was difficult to determine where I belonged. The world is a big place and how would I determine which clique or hierarchy I would join? I came to realize though that no matter what hierarchy or clique I was in, I had a choice. I could choose to pursue the in-group status or remain in the out-group. If neither of those choices appealed to me, I could start my own group. Social dominance is only as limiting as you make it.  It is essential to determine your own path, regardless of the hierarchy to which you belong, for that is where you will find the most joy.

Hughes, J. (Director). (1985). The Breakfast Club [Motion Picture].

Sidanius, J., & Pratto, F. (2012). Social Dominance Thoery. In P. A. Van Lange, A. W. Kruglanski, & E. T. Higgins, Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology: Volume Two (pp. 418-438). London: Sage.

The Pennsylvania State University World Campus L6 P5. (2015). Lesson 6: Intergroup Relations: Social Dominance Theory. Retrieved from PSYCH424: Applied Social Psychology: https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/fa15/psych424/001/content/07_lesson/05_page.html

The Pennsylvania State University World Campus, L6 P4. (2015). Lesson 6: Intergroup Relations Social Identity Theory. Retrieved from PSYCH424: Applied Social Psychology: https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/fa15/psych424/001/content/07_lesson/04_page.html


Skip to toolbar