Children as young as seven and 10 empathise with and feel differently towards ‘other’ kids
A 2012 study in PLoS One found that American adults, both Blacks and Whites, believe that Black people feel less pain than White people do. The researchers of that study had found that the people being studied sweated more when they saw a White man experiencing physical pain in comparison with a Black man.
Psychologists argue that such a strong bias possibly occurs because people assume that Blacks have been through more hardship and are thus tougher than Whites.
But how and when does such a bias come to be formed? A new US study has now found that such a bias forms as early as childhood. The study, published in BPS British Journal of Developmental Psychology and conducted by psychologists from University of Virginia, Charlottesville, surveyed a sample of mostly White children at ages five, seven and 10. The children were asked to rate the severity of pain they thought would be felt by children in different pictorial scenarios: for example, shutting their hand in a door or bumping their head. When they were shown photos of Black children, the seven and ten-year-olds rated the level of pain as less severe than that being sustained by White youngsters.
The researchers write in the journal, ‘Five-, 7-, and 10-year-olds first rated the amount of pain they themselves would feel in 10 situations such as biting their tongue or hitting their head. They then rated the amount of pain they believed two other children—a Black child and a White child, matched to the child’s gender—would feel in response to the same events. We found that by age 7, children show a weak racial bias and that by age 10, they show a strong and reliable racial bias. Consistent with research on adults, this bias was not moderated by race- related attitudes or interracial contact. This finding is important because knowing the age of emergence can inform the timing of interventions to prevent this bias.’ In a written statement made available to the press, the study’s lead researcher Rebecca Dore, said, ‘If we want to prevent this bias from developing, it needs to be done by age seven, or age 10 at the latest.’