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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2010 Mar;98(3):356-74. doi: 10.1037/a0017993.

Automatic prejudice in childhood and early adolescence.

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Department of Social Psychology, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


Four cross-sectional studies are presented that investigated the automatic activation of prejudice in children and adolescents (aged 9 years to 15 years). Therefore, 4 different versions of the affective priming task were used, with pictures of ingroup and outgroup members being presented as prejudice-related prime stimuli. In all 4 studies, a pattern occurred that suggests a linear developmental increase of automatic prejudice with significant effects of outgroup negativity appearing only around the ages of 12 to 13 years. Results of younger children, on the contrary, did not indicate any effect of automatic prejudice activation. In contrast, prejudice effects in an Implicit Association Test (IAT) showed high levels of prejudice independent of age (Study 3). Results of Study 4 suggest that these age differences are due to age-related differences in spontaneous categorization processes. Introducing a forced-categorization into the affective priming procedure produced a pattern of results equivalent to that obtained with the IAT. These results suggest that although children are assumed to acquire prejudice at much younger ages, automatization of such attitudes might be related to developmental processes in early adolescence. We discuss possible theoretical implications of these results for a developmental theory of prejudice representation and automatization during childhood and adolescence.

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