Children's concepts of race


Steven Roberts

(University of Michigan)

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Date: December 14, 2016


Concepts of race play an important role in U.S. society, such that they contribute to stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. However, the extent to which children, learn, understand, and use these concepts is unclear. Do children use race to categorize and evaluate others? When do they show an “adult-like” representation of race? Do concepts of race vary as a function of children’s own racial group? I will present research addressing these and other questions. In one line of research I discovered that the hypodescent concept (e.g., the belief that a person with black and white ancestry is black and not white) stems from attention to perceptual features during childhood, but from ideological motives during adulthood, and that the extent to which this concept develops varies between Black and White children. In a second line of research, I found that the concept of racial stability (e.g., that a Black child will grow up to be a Black adult) develops between the ages of 5 and 10, at different rates across racial groups, and as a function of language input. In a third line of research, I found that children use concepts of descriptive group regularities (i.e., characteristics shared by individuals within a group) to make prescriptive judgments (i.e., characteristics that should be shared by individuals within a group). Together, these studies highlight the complex roles of development and social experiences in the acquisition, understanding, and use of concepts of race. Implications for stereotyping and norm enforcement will be discussed.

Created: Friday, December 16th, 2016