A new study led by researchers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, has found strong evidence of racial and gender bias in four-year-old children.
For their study, the researchers adapted a classic implicit bias test that is used for adults and older children and modified it to accommodate four-year-old children. The researchers than asked child participants to view images of Black and White girls and boys. Each image was presented briefly and followed immediately with a neutral image: Chinese orthographic symbols. Children were instructed to say how much they liked that neutral image. Across two experiments, children favored the images they saw after viewing faces of White children over those following images they were shown after viewing faces of Black children. In particular, children rated neutral images significantly less positively if they followed pictures of Black boys than pictures of any other group; Black girls, White boys, and White girls.
“The preschool years are key because they represent an ‘inflection point’ when children typically begin to interact more broadly with individuals beyond their families and close friends,” said senior author Sandra Waxman, the Louis W. Menk Chair in Psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern and a faculty fellow with the University’s Institute for Policy Research. “This greater exposure affords children an opportunity to observe social biases evidenced in their communities. Evidence from 4-year-old children is also important because in contrast to the social biases held by adults, those of young children are highly malleable.”
For future studies, the research team wants to broaden their study to include children from more racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Identifying how social biases emerge in diverse racial, ethnic and demographic contexts will be essential for identifying how children’s social environments shape the biases they come to hold,” said Dr. Waxman. “In our view, this evidence will be key for raising the next generation with less pernicious racial and gender biases than our own.”
The full study, “Bias at the Intersection of Race and Gender: Evidence From Preschool-Aged Children,” was published in Developmental Science. It may be accessed here.