ScienceDaily (Mar. 19, 2012) — For a 6-year-old, one of the most powerful educational tools may be direct instruction, according to new research on how children learn about prejudice. Scientists found that as children get closer to age 10, they begin to rely more on their own experiences rather than what people tell them — but for youngsters, instruction trumps experience.
“Young children are information hungry — they are eagerly searching for general rules to help in mapping out their social worlds,” write Sonia Kang and Michael Inzlicht of the University of Toronto in this month’s Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Across two studies that investigated how children learn about rejection, they found that external instruction and experiences play distinct roles in shaping how children characterize other groups of people.
Previous research has shown that between ages 3 and 6, children learn about and begin to apply stereotypes and can recognize overt discrimination. But between 6 and 10 years old, they become aware of other people’s stereotypes, able to perceive subtle discrimination by age 10. The new study sought “a deeper understanding of how children learn that they themselves may be targets of discrimination” by members of other groups, Kang says.