Don't talk about race: Children and categorization

In most areas, children’s problem-solving skills improve with age as their cognitive abilities develop. A study published in the September 2008 issue of Developmental Psychology examined children’s tendency to acknowledge or avoid race when solving problems.

Children were divided into groups by age: 8 to 9 year-olds and 10-11 year olds. The task that they were asked to perform was similar to the game “Guess Who?” The examiner chose a person’s picture from a group of 40, and the child asked yes/no questions until he or she could identify the person who had been chosen; the goal was to identify the picture by asking as few questions as possible. The pictures varied in 4 ways: background colour, gender, weight, and race. The researchers found that, when race was a factor, the younger children outperformed their older peers.

The study concluded that, when children’s understanding of race and social norms is beginning to develop, they tend to completely avoid acknowledging race. This may be related to the notion that categorizing people according to their skin colour may lead them to appear prejudiced. The authors theorized that 10 years of age may be a critical period in children’s development, when their understanding of social and moral norms begins to affect their behaviour – even when it comes at a cost to themselves.

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