Racial prejudice can be reversed in older children, says UBC study

Stories depicting black individuals positively contributing to society, help reduce racial bias in older kids, according to new research out of UBC.

Recent UBC study says society needs to intervene when prejudice first takes root in children

UBC researchers Andrew Scott Baron and Antonya Gonzalez found that racial bias can be reduced in older kids (Samantha Garvey/CBC)

Researchers are hopeful racial discrimination can be reversed during child development, as a result of a new study out of the University of British Columbia.

But the study found the reversal only occurred in older kids.

The study's authors wanted to know if was possible to reverse racial discrimination while individuals were still in the developmental stage.

"We wanted to look more at implicit bias, which is more of our automatic and unconscious bias," said Antonya Gonzalez, the study's lead author and a graduate student at UBC's Department of Psychology, in an interview with host Chris Walker with B.C. Almanac.

Gonzalez built the study based on previous research that shows bias can appear in children as young as five.

In the study, 369 white and Asian children were recruited and divided up into two age categories; one with a median age of seven, and another age 10.

The children were then told fictional stories about black individuals contributing positively to society.

In a follow-up survey, the older group of kids had significant reductions in racial biases.

However, the younger group still associated black people with negative words and white people with positive ones.

U.S. Racial Tensions

The study comes in the midst of increasing racial tensions in the United States.

Last week, five white police officers were killed in Dallas Texas by Micah Xavier Johnson, who was overheard saying he wanted to kill white people.

This followed the shooting of two black men by police in two separate incidents — Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota.

On Tuesday, a singer with Vancouver's the Tenors, changed the lyrics of Canada's national anthem during the MLB All-Star game to promote "All Lives Matter," a campaign that some view as opposed to the widespread, "Black Lives Matter" movement.

Andrew Scott Baron, a professor of psychology at UBC, and the supervisor of the research, sees the results as positive toward calming racial tensions on both sides of the border.

"Kids are highly susceptible to the information that they're getting," said Baron. "It seems to be an automatic consequence of dividing up the world into people like us and people not like us."

Changing the story

In particular, he sees a lesson to storytellers— TV and film producers, media and even parents and teachers — to be mindful of what messages of racial divide are being delivered to children.

"Even if it's not intentional."

Baron adds that this is a good place to start to look for solutions.

"Once we know that these unconscious biases are there, we have to start to question ourselves, " he said.

"If we want to have long term societal change, where people become more egalitarian, what we need to do is start working on kids in early primary schools."

An abstract of the study is available online.

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