Modifying ethnic attitudes in young children: The impact of communicator race and message strength

Philip Jai Johnson, Frances E. Aboud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Due to their sociocognitive limitations, children between the ages of 4 and 8 years tend to resist antibias messages from others. The purpose of this study was to examine if children would be more responsive to an antibias message as a function of the race of the communicator, the strength of the antibias message, and their ability to reconcile different perspectives. As children's inferences of communicators' attitudes constitute an unintended message, we assessed children's inferences of communicators' Black and White attitudes before and after the intervention. Children's own attitudes and cognitive elaboration of the antibias message were assessed after the intervention. Very few children were able to reconcile different ethnic perspectives. Results further revealed that communicators were inferred to hold more positive attitudes after the intervention, but that this was largely due to an increase in the ingroup communicator's inferred White attitudes and when the message was weak. Moreover, no difference was observed for children's own attitudes and cognitive elaboration of the message. Results are discussed with respect to social cognitive barriers that result in children's distortion or dismissal of antibias messages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-191
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Sincere thanks are extended to the children, teachers, and principals of Riverview and Dorset Elementary schools for their participation. We are also grateful to Victoria Della Cioppa, Carolyn Mirotchnik, Lou-Eugénie Légaré-Saint-Laurent, Maxine Viezel-Mathieu, Tomi Tade, Korine Arsenault, and Cassandre Mentor for collecting the data.


  • antibias messages
  • communicator race
  • ethnic attitudes
  • prejudice reduction
  • program evaluation


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