New research from psychologists at the University of Washington (UW) suggest children can learn biases from adults’ nonverbal cues, such as tone of voice or facial expression.
“This research shows that kids are learning bias from the non-verbal signals that they’re exposed to, and that this could be a mechanism for the creation of racial bias and other biases that we have in our society,” said lead author Allison Skinner, a postdoctoral researcher in the UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. “Kids are picking up on more than we think they are, and you don’t have to tell them that one group is better than another group for them to be getting that message from how we act.”
Researchers gathered a group of boys and girls ages 4 and 5, and showed them a video in which actors carried out the same actions but displayed positive signals to one person, such as a warm smile and tone, and negative signals to the other, such as leaning away and scowling.
When asked which person they preferred, more than two-thirds of the children indicated the person who received the positive nonverbal signals.
An expanded experiment found that the acquired bias also extends beyond an individual to members of groups with which he or she is associated.
The study, “Catching Social Bias: Exposure to Biased Nonverbal Signals Creates Social Biases in Preschool Children,” was published on the website of the journal Psychological Science.