Academic Minute Podcast

Rachel Leshin, New York University – We Can Reduce Bias in Children – If It’s Causes are Explained

On New York University Week: Reducing bias in children is possible, if the causes are explained.

Rachel Leshin, Ph. D. candidate in the psychology department, describes how.

Rachel is a sixth-year PhD candidate at New York University in the psychology department. Her research falls at the intersection of three areas: social psychology, developmental psychology, and cognitive psychology. In her work, she examines how children form their concepts of the social world (including their beliefs about social categories, like gender, race, and social status) across development.

We Can Reduce Bias in Children – If It’s Causes are Explained

Children notice inequality from a young age and often end up reinforcing it,

revealing a bias that may carry into adulthood. For example, children often say that

group disparities are acceptable and prefer people from higher status groups. We

wondered whether teaching children about the structural causes of inequality—the

policies, laws, or norms that advantage one group over another—might lead to lower

levels of bias and greater efforts to address inequality.

We tested this with 200 children, ages 5-10. We first introduced them to two fictional

groups: one that had a lot of economic resources, and one that had a little. Then, we

gave children one of three explanations for the disparity. In one condition, children

learned that the inequality had resulted from structural “rules” created by the high-status

group; in another, they learned that it resulted from rules created by a neutral third-

party; and in the third – a control condition – we didn’t provide an explanation at all.

Compared to the other two conditions, children who learned that the high-status group

had made the structural rules showed lower levels of group bias, perceived the status

hierarchy as less fair, and gave more resources to the low-status group.

Our findings suggest that structural explanations can be effective in childhood, but only

if they specify the role of the high-status group in creating the inequality. We think this

might be because, without this information, children may assume that whatever rules or

policies exist are somehow right and not seek to challenge them. Only when children

learned that these rules had been enacted by the high-status group, for their benefit, did

they realize that the system was unfair.

Read More:
[TIME] – It Might Be Possible to Reduce Bias in Kids, New Research Suggests

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