Kids as young as 5 show racial bias, research suggests – Technology & Science

A new study out of York University suggests most white children as young as five years old show racial bias in favour of other white children. 

Researchers in Toronto conducted several tests involving more than 350 white children to gain a better understanding of implicit bias, which is bias that is automatic and unbeknownst to the individual.

The participants completed a child-friendly version of the implicit association test (IAT), a recognized bias test developed by researchers at Harvard University.

They were shown a series of photos on a computer screen, each one featuring either a white boy or a black boy, and for each image the children were asked to choose with their mouse whether it made them feel happy or sad.

Both age groups, five- to eight-year-olds and nine- and 12-year-olds, showed greater positivity toward white children than black children.

Another test involved what’s known as an affect misattribution procedure (AMP). The children were shown either a black child, white child or grey square. Milliseconds later, they were shown an ink blot and asked if the blot was pleasant or unpleasant. Researchers say the answer exposes bias toward the image shown before the ink blot.  

The researchers found, overall, there was no evidence the children displayed either negative or positive attitudes toward black children.

“They were showing positivity toward white kids, but not necessarily negativity toward black kids,” lead researcher Jennifer Steele told CBC News.

Egocentric attitudes

One reason for the bias may be the fact that young children — up to about eight years old — tend to be egocentric, believing that they are better than others, researchers say. 

Though the children didn’t express negativity toward black children, Steele says they were still indicating a preference for other white children.

“It’s still a racial bias, but it just gives us a little more information about the nature of that bias, which then can allow us to reflect a little bit on what an appropriate intervention might be or what might benefit kids if we’re just trying to increase a positive attitude toward a diverse group of kids in a classroom, for example.”

York University researcher Jennifer Steele says teaching children positive attitudes early on could benefit them as they get older. (Shutterstock/Rawpixel.com)

The study found that in the AMP test, older children — aged nine to 12 — didn’t show a positive…

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