Learning to navigate social situations is an important part of growing up. Some cognitive scientists study children in order to develop a better sense of how children perceive other people and how this might affect their social interactions.
Research has shown that adults often find it easier to remember faces that belong to only one racial group than those that are mixed-race or whose race is ambiguous. In our research, we want to find out whether children demonstrate the same pattern. Because children often learn through categorization, and mixed-race individuals do not belong to just one category, children may have more difficulty remembering faces that are mixed-race, and they may not understand what it would be like to be a mixed-race person.
In this study, we show children (ages 4-8) faces that are either single-race or mixed-race, and we ask them different types of questions about them. In one task, we ask children to try to remember a small set of faces. Then we show them a larger group of faces with some of the previously-seen faces mixed in. We want to know how many of the original set of faces they remember, and whether they tend to remember the single-race faces more often than the mixed-race faces. In other tasks, we show children pictures of individual mixed-race children, and ask them to tell us what they think about each child: What race is s/he? Would you want to play with him/her? When s/he grows up, what will s/he look like? We also read children a short story about a mixed-race child and his adventures in a lunchroom.
By asking these questions, we hope to find out how children begin to understand racial groups, and what perceptions they have about mixed-race individuals. This research will help us to learn more about the issues faced by mixed-race children in school and other social settings.
Learn about other research related to Reasoning about Social Situations.
This research is conducted by the Social Psychology Lab at Tufts University