The next time you try to utter biased or discriminatory comments via nonverbal signs such as a condescending tone of voice or a disapproving look in the presence of your kid, be careful.
According to a new study, young children can ‘catch’ the social bias by seeing even brief negative signals expressed by adults and are likely to generalise that learned bias to others.
“This research shows that kids are learning bias from the non-verbal signals that they’re exposed to,” said lead author Allison Skinner, postdoctoral student in the University of Washington in Seattle, US.
This could be a mechanism for the creation of racial bias and other biases that exist in the society, Skinner said.
“Kids are picking up on more than we think. You don’t have to tell them that one group is better than another, for them to be getting that message from how we act,” Skinner added.
For the study, the team involved an initial group of 148 children aged four and five, an equal mix of boys and girls.
In the first experiment, the researchers found that children preferred individuals who were depicted in good light as opposed to another.
These kids were exposed to a brief video depicting nonverbal bias in favour of one individual over another.
In the second experiment, pre-schoolers appeared to generalise such bias to other individuals.
The spread of the bias observed in these experiments lays a critical foundation for understanding the way that social biases develop and spread in early childhood.
The findings underscore the need for parents or adults to be aware of the messages — verbal or otherwise — that they convey to children about how they feel about others, Skinner said.