Racial and Gender Awareness in Preschoolers
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
BERNARD, C. E. (2002). Racial and Gender Awareness in Preschoolers. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 5. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved April 30, 2017 .

Racial and Gender Awareness in Preschoolers

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (bhalla@loyno.edu)
The purpose of this study was to examine gender and racial awareness in preschoolers. Thirteen Caucasian participants (7 female, 6 male), ages 3-4, were each shown four pictures and then asked to describe them. There were two different sets of pictures, differing in race and/or gender. These pictures displayed young children performing typical activities. Then, the participants were asked to describe themselves. It was hypothesized that the children would mention race when describing the pictures more than they would when describing themselves, and that gender would be mentioned more often in both circumstances. Significance was found supporting the claim that gender would be mentioned more often than race, but no significance was found supporting the claim that the participants would mention race more when describing the pictures than they would when describing themselves.

One day I came home from school to my little brother waiting at the door. As I walked in he said, “Dorothy is black.” Dorothy had been our nanny all five years of his life. It was if he had just suddenly come to the conclusion that she was black. When I asked him how he knew that she was black, he said, “Well, she told me.” It dawned on me that he had never even noticed that she had a different skin color from him, and now that he did know, it was only because she had told him. He knew the difference but did not understand it visually. This was interesting to me because I had never before thought about how young children perceived issues such as race or even gender. Research has shown that racial information is usually represented in both perceptual and verbal categories (Hirschfeld, 1993). If the age at which children start to notice these differences can be determined, then the age at which they start to have biases can also be determined. Problems such as prejudice and racism could even be prevented if they were approached before they began. For example, research suggests that seeing African Americans in children’s literature that were cast in a favorable light could help alleviate existing negative attitudes (Singh & Yancey, 1974). Singh and Yancey used color photos, a biography of a famous African American, and realistic fiction stories with multiracial situations to examine first grade students. Their study was conducted over the period of thirty school days. The experimental group consisted of twenty white children, and the control group consisted of twenty-one white children. The children in the experimental group were exposed to a more extensive and intensive program designed to change racial attitudes. At the end of the study, the Racial Attitude Measure II was used to conclude that reduction for negative racial attitudes was effective. This study examined the age of the participants as well as the race of the examiner (Glover & Smith, 1997). They also used pictures of children and found that when the examiner was of a different race than the participant the responses were very different than if the examiner was the same race as the participant. The children were more likely to mention race when the examiner was the same skin color as they were. The children will probably relate to and comprehend the pictures better if they are shown pictures of people their own age. Most of the past research found used pictures of adults rather than children. A study conducted by Dutton, Singer, and Devlin in 1998 used pictures and self-description to examine fourth grade students and find out the effect of a school’s population on a child’s racial identity. They used three different settings to conduct their study: an integrated school, an all black school, and an all white school. Then they used three different methods: a Draw-A-Person Test, a Spontaneous Self-Concept Test, and a picture test containing African American, Caucasian, and Hispanic adults. The self-concept test consisted of asking the children, “What are you?” and “What are you not?” The results of the Dutton, Singer, and Devlin study indicated that non-integrated schools disliked other races more than the children in integrated schools did, and that white children produced drawings that depicted their race more obviously than children from either of the other schools did. The study also concluded that the children in the white schools chose more friends in the out group than the black school did, and that all groups chose their own race when asked which picture looked like them. Of all the past research, this study produced the most results since they conducted three different tests to obtain their findings. In 1993, Hirschield conducted a study involving sixty-four French preschoolers that tested their memory for racial and other social information. Each child was read a simple 4-episode problem solving story. The first experiment tested children’s recall of social descriptions embedded in a verbal context. The second experiment examined children’s social memory in a parallel visual narrative. The children recalled more racial information after listening to a narrative than after viewing a similar visual one. The results showed us that verbal cues are necessary in our study when testing young children, and they support the use of self-description. The goal of our study was to determine the level of awareness in children 3-5 years of age. Each child was shown four pictures that varied in race and/or gender and then asked to describe the pictures and themselves. This procedure of showing the children pictures was similar to past research, but our study is one of the few that used preschool children rather than elementary school children. Research shows that children acquire the sense of being male or female by the time they are 3 years old (Santrock, 2002). If preschoolers were asked to describe the physical appearance of pictured children, then they would be more likely to mention racial distinctions than when asked to describe their own physical appearance. If preschoolers were asked to describe themselves as well as pictured children, then they would be more likely to mention gender, and less likely to mention race distinctions in both instances.

Participants The participants in our study were thirteen preschool students, ages 3-5, recruited from the Loyola University Daycare Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. The study was conducted through convenience sampling. There were seven females and six males, which were all Caucasian. In order to obtain a sample of preschoolers for our study, consent from the parents, assent from the children, and the permission of the daycare director was needed.

Materials The materials used in our study were 4 pictures that were 8.5 x 11 inches and were line drawings from a children’s coloring book. As the appendix shows, they were drawings of children performing typical activities. There were 2 copies of each picture; one with the skin color being black, and one with the skin color being white. Pictures of 4 different children, varying in gender and race, were shown to each child. A parental consent form including all the information about the research study was also used to obtain permission to test the children. The children were asked to describe the pictures that they were shown and then also asked to describe themselves. A hand held tape recorder was used to record the children’s responses. Demographic information was collected on each participant.

Design and Procedure The research design applied was descriptive/observational research testing the age at which gender and racial awareness comes in. The variables were the age of the participant, the gender of the pictured child, and the race of the pictured child. First, the letter of consent had to be signed by the daycare director. Then the letter of consent was sent home to the parents. Children whose parents gave them permission for participation were asked if they would like to join the activity, which is assent given by the participant. The researchers then spent time playing with and getting to know the children in order to make them more comfortable before testing actually began. Each student was assigned a code number, which corresponded with his or her demographic information. Once parental consent and the child’s assent were obtained, each participant was shown four pictures, one of each gender and skin color, for 30 seconds each. After each picture was taken away, the participant was asked, “What did you see in the picture?” and then, “What did the child in the picture look like?” After the final picture had been displayed and the response recorded, the participant was asked, “If you were to tell me what you looked like, what would you say?” The students’ teacher remained in the room with each child while they were being tested. Upon completion of this task, each participant was given the opportunity to have any questions answered, or voice any concerns. Each self and picture description was recorded using a hand held tape recorder. None of the participant’s demographic information was indicated on the tape, and only his/her code number was used to identify each student. After all necessary data was recorded, every code number and tape recording was destroyed. Participation was strictly on a voluntary basis, and if, at any time, a participant wished to withdraw or terminate his/her participation, he/she was permitted to do so without consequence. All research was done under supervision of the class teachers, and all participants were tested individually in a distraction free environment, on the premises of the Loyola Daycare Center. The participants were all debriefed and the results were provided to the parents.

Table 1 shows the number of participants that mentioned race and gender when shown each of the four pictures. The first hypothesis, which stated that the children would mention race when describing the pictures more than they would when describing themselves, was not supported by the results. This was measured by a Cochran’s Q (Q=5.54, p= n.s.). There was a significance found for our second hypothesis, which stated that the children would mention gender more than race when describing themselves and when describing the pictures. This was measured by the Wilcoxon Signed Ranks Test (Z= -2.588, p=.010). Although it was not part of our research, one finding that was interesting to make note of was that when describing themselves, the children mentioned gender more than they mentioned race (Z=-2.00, p=.045).

The study conducted did not uncover any overwhelmingly significant results, and only one of the hypotheses was supported by the findings. Significance was found for the second hypothesis, which stated that the participants would mention gender more than race when giving picture and self-descriptions. There was also an additional finding that was not part of the study. It acknowledged that the children mentioned gender more than race when describing themselves. No other study exactly like the present one was found, but many results on gender and race in children were. Dutton, Singer, and Devlin (1998), who studied the effect of a school’s population on a child’s racial identity, showed that all groups of fourth grade students chose their own race when asked which picture looked similar to them. Singh and Yancey (1974) proved that their goal of reduction for negative racial attitudes was effective by using the Racial Attitude Measure II, and Hirschield (1993) discovered that preschool children recalled more racial information after listening to a narrative than when they were shown a visual. Most of the past research was done on older elementary school children and did not directly observe when gender and racial awareness began. The results of the present study were different because the experiment observed if gender and racial awareness had come about by the time a child was in preschool. The main drawback of this study was that the sample was not large enough. It was extremely small (n=13). In addition, the participants were all Caucasian. The results might have been very different if the sample size was larger and more diverse. Another problem was that many of the children were too shy or not comfortable enough to talk to the researchers. In order to fight biases and mistakes, both researchers asked each child the same questions and recorded the testing with a tape recorder. In the future, researchers should spend more time being acquainted with the children before testing begins. In addition, it might be helpful to ask the children to look into a mirror while asking them to describe themselves. The researchers hoped that this study would help the reduction of racism and stereotypes by figuring out about what age awareness of race and gender occurred. If the age at which this awareness occurs is known, then people can know exactly when to start preventing these stereotypes from taking place before they even start. The researchers had to reject the first hypothesis, stating that the children would mention race more when describing the pictures than when describing themselves, but the second hypothesis found significant results. Thus, confirming that the children did mention gender more than race when describing themselves and when describing the pictures. This implies that children are aware of gender by the time they are 3-4 years of age. Future research with a larger and more diverse sample should show even greater significance and enhanced results.

Submitted 12/13/2002 9:30:55 PM
Last Edited 12/13/2002 9:45:15 PM
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