This research headed by Katherine Kinzler
, the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor in Psychology at University of Chicago, and lead author on the paper Children’s essentialist reasoning about language and race
published in Developmental Science
aimed to measure whether children at different ages use the language a person speaks or a person’s ethnic background when identifying with that person.
Children of different ages saw pictures and heard the voices of a child and two adults. They were posed the question "Which adult will the child grow up to be?". One of the adults was similar in race to the child in the picture and the other spoke the same language. Neither adults matched the child in both race or in native language.
The nine-and ten-year-old white children in the study used race to match the adult to the child in the picture. The researchers say that these choices signify that this age group already understand that skin colour is a stable factor in defining a person’s identity whereas different languages can be acquired regardless of race.
In contrast, most of the white children in the group of five-and six-year-olds matched the child with the adult who spoke the same language regardless of differing ethnicity.
In contrast to the five-and six-year-old white group of children, when African American children of this age group were shown the same photos and voices, their choices were the same as the older white children, matching the child and the adult based on racial identity not on language similarities.
In a report by UChicagoNews
Kinzler, explains the choices of the 5- and 6-year-old white children, by saying that at a young age, language for children provides a bigger biological connection.
, co-author of the study explains that children of dissimilar racial groups could have different racial and cultural experiences to those of English-speaking white children which may influence their choices during these tasks.
Dautel also added that research shows that minority children are more conscious of prejudice and stereotypes, and children of different groups may have different socialisation experiences and conversations about race.
Read the full research report