This research investigates the role of young children's attitudes toward privilege in the development and maintenance of social group attitudes including social class and racial attitudes. There is now considerable evidence that experienced and perceived prejudice and discrimination contribute to mental and physical health problems (for a review see Mays et al., 2007). Therefore, to improve physical and mental health, as well as to reduce intergroup conflict, it is in our best interest to reduce prejudice and discrimination. Toward this end, the current proposal explores one potential mechanism underlying prejudice, a general tendency to prefer the privileged. Previous research suggests that a preference for the privileged emerges by age 3 (Olson et al., 2008), even before specific social group attitudes emerge (e.g., Aboud, 2003). Lending further support for the current hypothesis is research finding that whereas majority group children show a distinct preference for their own racial groups, as early as attitudes emerge, this is not true of minority group children (Aboud, 1988);minority group children instead show no preference or even a slight pro-outgroup preference. One possible explanation for this asymmetry is an understanding of social status. Whereas social status and own group preference are likely to converge in the case of majority group children, social status and own group preference diverge in the case of minority group children, possibly leading to the common result of no racial preference. Building on these two findings, the proposed studies test this hypothesis that pro-privileged attitudes are related to and potentially contribute to the development of social class and racial attitudes. To test this hypothesis two studies will be conducted. The first study employs a cross-sectional design to examine the emergence of pro-privileged, racial, and social class attitudes in White and Black children between the ages of 42 and 60 months, predicting that pro-privileged attitudes will be present in most children from the earliest age, whereas racial and social class attitudes will emerge later. Correlational analyses will assess whether individual differences in pro-privileged attitudes predict individual differences in racial and social class attitudes. The next study examines the relationship between pro-privileged and racial attitudes in White and Black children aged 5-10. By investigating these attitudes in older children, a wider range of measures can be used including both implicit and explicit racial attitude measures, questionnaires (adapted from work in adult social cognition) assessing the preference for the privileged, as well as age-appropriate measures similar to those used in Study 1, to assess the relationships between attitudes toward privilege and race. Together this work will examine a new mechanism underlying specific social group attitudes, a general positive attitude toward privilege.

Public Health Relevance

Decades of research have indicated that actual and perceived prejudice and discrimination are associated with reduced physical and mental health (Armstead, Lawler, Gorden, Cross, &Gibbons, 1989;Brody, et al., 2006, Harrell, Hall, &Taliaferro, 2003;Krieger, 1990;Krieger &Sidney, 1996;Szalacha, Erkut, Coll, Alarcon, Fields, &Ceder, 2003;Troxel, Matthews, Bromberger, &Sutton-Tyrrell, 2003). The current research investigates one possible mechanism underlying the development of racial and social class attitudes that contribute to prejudice and discrimination, a general preference for the privileged. If this mechanism is found to contribute to the development of social attitudes, this research will inform future intervention studies aimed at reducing prejudice before it starts in early childhood, by aiming interventions toward the underlying attitude toward the privileged, rather than the specific racial or social class attitude.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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Pediatrics Subcommittee (CHHD)
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Esposito, Layla E
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Yale University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
New Haven
United States
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Shutts, Kristin; Brey, Elizabeth L; Dornbusch, Leah A et al. (2016) Children Use Wealth Cues to Evaluate Others. PLoS One 11:e0149360
Newheiser, Anna-Kaisa; Dunham, Yarrow; Merrill, Anna et al. (2014) Preference for high status predicts implicit outgroup bias among children from low-status groups. Dev Psychol 50:1081-90
Horwitz, Suzanne R; Shutts, Kristin; Olson, Kristina R (2014) Social class differences produce social group preferences. Dev Sci 17:991-1002
Newheiser, Anna-Kaisa; Olson, Kristina R (2012) White and Black American Children's Implicit Intergroup Bias. J Exp Soc Psychol 48:264-270
Olson, Kristina R; Shutts, Kristin; Kinzler, Katherine D et al. (2012) Children associate racial groups with wealth: evidence from South Africa. Child Dev 83:1884-99