Understanding children’s awareness against prejudice

17 Aug 2023
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University of Queensland researchers investigated how children judged the acceptability of holding prejudicial attitudes towards others.

Dr Jessica Spence from UQ’s School of Psychology said it is the first study to look at children’s understanding of the social norms against prejudice.

“We asked 333 Australian children aged 5 to 10 how acceptable it was to have prejudicial sentiments towards 25 different targets who were either prosocial, antisocial, vulnerable or part of a minority group," Dr Spence said.

“Children were introduced to each target with an accompanying visual illustration and audio clip of the target speaking and they were asked how okay it was to think bad things about the target.

We found children were more likely to judge prejudice as ‘not okay’ for targets who are prosocial, such as someone who shares their toys or picks up rubbish.

“In contrast, children were more likely to judge prejudice as ‘okay’ for targets who are antisocial, such as someone who steals or lies, and negatively regarded in society like a bully or robber.

“With age we found children increasingly judged prejudice towards all majority and minority race targets as 'not okay'.”

Co-author Dr Kana Imuta said capturing children’s awareness of norms against prejudice for different social groups is an essential step towards understanding how to negate biases.

“In many societies it is widely considered unacceptable to hold prejudicial attitudes, largely established through laws for equal treatment, the media, and educational efforts,” Dr Imuta said.

“Prejudice, however, exists towards a larger variety of social groups beyond those which are commonly acknowledged and protected by anti-prejudice norms.

“We hope this research will help us understand how children’s awareness against prejudice for different social groups emerges and informs how we might prevent negative consequences of prejudice in society.”

The research is published in Child Development.

Media: Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences Communication, habs.media@uq.edu.au, @UQHealth