Researchers from New York University and the University of Amsterdam have investigated how children between 5 and 6 years old perceive people of other races. They found that a child’s environment, rather than skin color, has the biggest impact on how they view others.
The outcome of this research challenges the theory that feelings of prejudice develop early in childhood. Furthermore, the study revealed that the extent to which children adopted prejudiced beliefs depended on the environments in which they were raised. Such beliefs were particularly affected by the diversity in a child’s neighborhood.
“Our findings suggest that beliefs about race develop over time and in response to particular environments,” said lead author Tara M. Mandalaywala. “And that these beliefs vary for children of different backgrounds.”
The investigation was focused on 203 children living in New York City and 430 adults from across the United States. The participants were asked whether they saw skin color as something that could be inherited, and whether they believed that race determines what people will grow up to be like.
The study revealed that children viewed skin color as something that was inherited, and that the younger participants did not support the types of beliefs about skin color that contributed to stereotyping in adults. Instead, this group believed that the environment in which another individual was raised would determine their behavioral and psychological properties.
In addition, children who grew up in less diverse neighborhoods held stronger beliefs that race determined behavior than children in more diverse neighborhoods. This indicated to the researchers that these types of beliefs are primarily affected by a child’s environment.
“Our research suggests that beliefs about race that contribute to prejudice take a long time to develop – when they do – and that their development depends to some extent on the neighborhoods in which children grow up,” said study co-author Marjorie Rhodes. “An important question our study raises is whether such attitudes in children are responsive to exposure to diversity in child care and school settings as well as to diversity in neighborhood environments.”
The study is published in the journal Child Development.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer