Overhearing messages about social groups and the development and measurement of children's intergroup attitudes
The negative outcomes associated with intergroup bias (e.g., prejudice and discrimination) are increasingly common in society (FBI, 2019; Wallace et al., 2016). Biases favoring one’s own group over other groups tend to increase between the ages of 4 and 7 years and maintain between 8 to 10 years (Raabe & Beelman, 2011). According to past work (Conder & Lane, 2021; Lane et. al, 2020; Gonzalez et al., 2017), one way in which children learn about social groups is from hearing others’ claims about those groups. However, these claims seem to strengthen the biases of older children (7 – 10 years) more strongly than those of younger children (4 – 6 years). This dissertation explored potential explanations for these age-related differences. In Study 1, 4- to 9-year-old’s drawings of a novel social group member were examined. Drawings were acquired from a previous study in which children either did or did not overhear negative information about a novel social group from a nearby video-chat conversation. Immediately after the call (but not following a 2-week delay), children across all ages who overheard the claims drew the facial expression of the group member with more negative affect than children who did not hear these claims. In Study 2, children (5 – 10 years) overheard a Zoom conversation between their parent and a researcher that included positive or negative information about a novel social group and a novel toy (as a point of comparison). Children’s attention to the conversation was measured according to the duration of time they looked toward their parent or toward the computer screen and the duration of time that they paused during a distractor task. Exploratory correlational analyses detected a potential age-related increase in children’s attention to negative information about both the group and the toy. Findings from these studies provide insight on the complexity of measuring children’s intergroup biases and offer potential explanations for age-related differences in children’s attention to overheard information about social groups. More generally, this work contributes to our understanding of how children may develop intergroup biases from their social environments and how children learn information from overhearing others’ conversations.