Racism is something we know is a learned behavior but the question researchers and journalists have been trying to get to the bottom of for years is just how young do children begin to develop certain perceptions and prejudices about members of other races.
Next week, Anderson Cooper will air a special week-long program on his CNN show AC360 highlighting findings from a year-long investigative study on how children perceive interracial contact on a day to day basis. Partnering with psychologist Dr. Melanie Killen of the University of Maryland, together they examined how early children begin to form attitudes and opinions about race.
In order to get a representative cross-section of the US population, the study was conducted on 145 African American and Caucasian children in six different schools across three states. The kids were shown images that were scientifically designed to be ambiguous to children, like a girl potentially pushing another child to the ground or a boy stealing money from another kid, and then asked, what is happening in this picture? In another set of questions, a young boy was asked whether the African American child and Caucasian child in the image could be friends, and Anderson said he found the response, “frankly surprising.” The video also shows another young boy being asked if it would be easy for a child to convince his parents that it was ok to have other types of people over to his house and the child emphatically shook his head no.
While reactions to the program will no-doubt incite strong emotions from viewers, Anderson made it a point to say the purpose of the study wasn’t to judge or criticize certain children.
“This is about educating all of us about subconscious biases that most of us probably have, and trying to understand where those biases come from—how they’re formed and importantly, what can be done about them.”
If anything, this is can be an important teaching moment for parents and educators to realize just how much their behaviors and opinions shape the children around them and how they can prevent the spread of stereotypical racial prejudices by exploring their own.
Check out the preview for next week’s special. Will you watch?