Kids think stereotypes reflect how world should be

December 22, 2016 by Jared Wadley, University of Michigan
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Once children believe that a group is characterized by a certain trait, they think individual people within that group should also be judged by that trait, according to a University of Michigan study.

U-M researchers introduced participants to unfamiliar groups—"Hibbles" and "Glerks"—who differed from each other in harmless behaviors, such as the kind of food they eat, language they speak, music they listen to and games they play.

They then showed participants conforming or nonconforming individuals (e.g., a Hibble who played with toys that Glerks typically played with), and asked them to evaluate those individuals.

The study, which appears in the current issue of Cognitive Science, involved four age groups: 4-6 years, 7-9 years, 10-13 years and adults.

Children between ages 4-13 believed that individuals should behave like others in their own , and that it was bad for them to not do so. This tendency declined with age, the research showed.

"These data suggest a thought process through which enforce group stereotypes," said Steven Roberts, U-M psychology doctoral candidate and the study's lead author. "Once they believe a group is a certain way, they quickly believe that group members should be that way."

Adults did not show the same judgments as children, the study found.

Importantly, children were less negative when the researchers introduced characters as individuals (e.g., "This one listens to this kind of music"), rather than groups (e.g., "Hibbles listen to this kind of music").

That is, when children focused on individuality and were then shown characters who did not conform to the behaviors of the first characters, they were significantly more likely to say that it was OK for a character to listen to whatever kind of music or play with whatever kind of toy that they want to.

"This suggests that when children focus on individuality, rather than group membership, they are less likely to use group stereotypes to guide how they think about individuals," said Roberts, who collaborated on the study with Susan Gelman, U-M professor of psychology and linguistics, and Arnold Ho, U-M assistant professor of psychology and organizational studies.

Roberts explained further that these data are important for understanding how children think about real-world social groups, such as those based on gender, race or ethnicity.

"From an early age, children often believe that girls do not play with trucks, and that do not befriend black people, for instance," he said. "These data suggest that once children believe this, they intuitively believe that girls should not play with trucks, and that white people should not befriend , and that it is bad if they do.

"However, teaching children about individual differences can prevent this bias. For instance, teaching children that girls do play with trucks, and that white people do have black friends, teaches them that social stereotypes do not accurately reflect how the world is and that they certainly don't reflect how the world should be."

Explore further: Can white kids grow up to be black? Some preschoolers think so

More information: Steven O. Roberts et al. So It Is, So It Shall Be: Group Regularities License Children's Prescriptive Judgments, Cognitive Science (2016). DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12443

Related Stories

Can white kids grow up to be black? Some preschoolers think so

May 20, 2016
White preschoolers often believe a person's race can change over time. In fact, these 5- to 6-year-olds may think they can grow up to become a black adult, according to a new University of Michigan study.

Reducing racial bias possible in older children, study finds

July 13, 2016
Research has shown children have racial biases from an early age, but a new University of British Columbia study has found that it is possible to combat prejudice in older kids.

Children can 'catch' social bias through non-verbal signals expressed by adults

December 21, 2016
Most conscientious adults tend to avoid making biased or discriminatory comments in the presence of children.

Biases influence how multiracial individuals are categorized

September 3, 2015
Throughout U.S. history, individuals who were part-white and part-black were typically treated as black, a tendency that has been called the "one-drop rule."

iPad apps teach kids just as well as humans: study

November 15, 2016
Young children learn just as well from interactive media as from face-to-face instruction, a new University of British Columbia study has found.

Recommended for you

FDA approves brain stimulation device for OCD

August 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—A brain stimulation device to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has received approval for marketing Friday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

People are more honest when using a foreign tongue, research finds

August 17, 2018
New UChicago-led research suggests that someone who speaks in a foreign language is probably more credible than the average native speaker.

Research eyes role of stress in mental illnesses

August 17, 2018
We all face stress in our lives. Even researchers seeking to understand why some people shrug it off while others face battles against disorders like depression or PTSD.

16 going on 66: Will you be the same person 50 years from now?

August 17, 2018
How much do you change between high school and retirement? The answer depends on whether you're comparing yourself to others or to your younger self.

Men and women show surprising differences in seeing motion

August 16, 2018
Researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on August 16 have found an unexpected difference between men and women. On average, their studies show, men pick up on visual motion significantly faster than women do.

It's okay when you're not okay: Study re-evaluates resilience in adults

August 16, 2018
Adversity is part of life: Loved ones die. Soldiers deploy to war. Patients receive terminal diagnoses.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.