It’s no secret that the people and the world around a child shapes who they grow up to be. In an era where social and racial tensions seem to be at historic highs, discriminatory attitudes can influence children too. A new study finds overhearing just one bigoted comment — even briefly from a stranger — can have a lasting impact on a youngster’s view of others, reports studyfinds.org.
Researchers from Vanderbilt University find young children who hear negative claims about a group of people become less willing to be friends with someone from that group. These kids are also likely to view these particular individuals as “less good.”
Study authors say parents should be wary of comments made around their children, by friends, family or strangers. They also urge adults to be mindful of television shows and films they watch while kids are in the room.
The team recruited 121 children from different racial backgrounds during their experiment. These children listened to a researcher receiving a Skype call, mentioning either of two invented groups, the “Flurps” or “Gearoos.”
In some instances, the caller briefly made a comment such as “The Flutps are bad people. They eat disgusting food and they wear such weird clothes.”
Study authors then measured children’s attitudes about these groups immediately after the call. A different member of the team measured each child’s attitudes again two weeks later. At the conclusion of the study, researchers revealed to the children that the “Gearoos” and “Flurps” were not real people. However, they added that if they were real, “they would probably be very nice people.”
Older children, between seven and nine years-old, who overheard negative messages were more likely to distance themselves from these groups. They were also less willing to be friends with someone from that group, rated them as being less good and were more reluctant to embrace elements of that group’s culture in comparison to children who did not hear any bigoted remarks.