A new study by psychologists at the University of Michigan found that White preschool children perceived racial differences but did not have a strong understanding of the concept of race or ethnicity. In fact, many White preschool children in the study believed that they could grow up to be a Black adult.
In an experiment, children were shown pictures of Black and White children and adults who were shown as either happy or angry. The children were asked to pick which adult the child in the picture would most likely grow up to be. Black children tended to match the Black child with the Black adult regardless of the emotion expressed. But White preschoolers tended to match the happy children with the happy adult and the angry child with the angry adult, regardless of race.
Steven O. Roberts, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study, notes that “at an early age, children do not have strong beliefs about race. They don’t even believe that race is stable. Because of this, White 5- to 6-year-olds may be less likely to use race as a way to discriminate against other children when selecting who to play with, for example.”
The study, “Can White Children Grow Up to Be Black? Children’s Reasoning About the Stability of Emotion and Race,” was published in the June 2016 issue of Developmental Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association. It may be accessed here. The co-author of the study is Susan Gelman, a professor of psychology and linguistics at the University of Michigan.