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As discussed in the previous section on bias in children, kids tend to segregate themselves into groups and then use these differences to apply subtle forms of discrimination against one another. So to some extent, prejudice in children is a natural phenomenon; a remnant of our tribal instincts that tell us people who look and act more like ourselves are more likely to be friendly and attuned to our interests. When bias goes by uncorrected, it turns into prejudice.

Types of prejudice in children

Prejudice comes in many different forms. Racism gets the most attention, but there are many types of prejudice children are prone to which can be equally destructive. Here are some of the main ones:

1. Racial prejudice

2. Gender or sexual prejudice

3. Ethnic prejudice

4. Religious prejudice

5. Fat prejudice (discrimination against obese people)

6. Group prejudice (Think of jocks, stoners, football players, cheerleaders, etc.)

7. Beauty bias (We discriminate against uglier people and give pretty people a pass)

The development of prejudice in children

Prejudice in children may emerge quite naturally as a result of those forces discussed earlier. Developmental psychologist Katherine D. Kinzler and her colleagues conducted a study where they first showed American 5-year-olds photographs of different children paired with audio clips of different voices and then asked who they preferred as a friend: A child who spoke English, one who spoke French, or one who spoke English with a French accent. Even though these little kids understood the French accented English, they were almost 4-times more likely to choose the native English speaker as a friend.

When it was just photographs they were shown without the audiotape, children tended to choose kids of the same race as their potential friends. Yet when the other child’s spoken words were paired with a picture, white children preferred a black child speaking with a normal accent over a white child who spoke English with a foreign accent. (Gluszek, 2010) It seems that a person’s mannerisms – in this case speech-are even more powerful than race in determining the initial impressions a child forms.

This study exposes the underpinnings of prejudice that we talked about earlier. When audio was excluded, children gravitated towards the child most like themselves. But when an accent was exposed, the child who talked like them triggered this “like me” bias more than the child of the same race.

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