Menus Subscribe Search

Findings

pillow-fight

(Photo: Sergey Novikov/Shutterstock)

Hatred of Outsiders Kicks in Between Ages 6 and 8

• January 29, 2014 • 4:00 AM

(Photo: Sergey Novikov/Shutterstock)

New research from Germany suggests love for people we think of as members of our group precedes hatred for those we perceive as outsiders. This may present a teaching opportunity.

At what point in our young lives do we start thinking of people who are different from us as enemies?

Provocative new research from Germany suggests this problematic psychological process—which underpins racism, extreme nationalism, and prejudice of all sorts—kicks in somewhere around age seven.

Love for one’s own group and hatred for perceived outsiders are separate attitudes that emerge at different stages of a child’s development, according to University of Erfurt researchers David Buttelmann and Robert Böhm.

In the journal Psychological Science, they present evidence that six-year-olds show clear bias in favor of a group they belong to. However, hatred for opposing groups doesn’t show up until two years later.

They further found that eight-year-old boys feel, or at least act upon, this disdain far more strongly than eight-year-old girls.

“Children, and in particular boys, should be taught as early as preschool age that intragroup cooperation and loyalty are valuable and beneficial for humanity only if they do not imply out-group derogation at the same time.”

Buttelmann and Böhm offer evidence from a cleverly designed experiment, which featured a computer game of their own devising.

Children—45 six-year-olds and 36 eight-year-olds—gathered in a laboratory in groups of three to 10. Each drew a lottery ticket that determined whether they would belong to the “green” or “yellow” group. Members of each group were assigned to opposite corners of the lab, and wore T-shirts of their group’s color.

After a short introduction, each youngster sat down at a computer terminal and played a game in which they were presented with 15 “positive resources” (including a cookie and a teddy bear) and 15 “negative resources” (including a spider and a piece of broken glass). They were given the option of allocating each item to a puppet dressed as a member of their group, or to one dressed as a member of the other group.

Importantly, they also had a third option: Depositing the item into an open box. In this way, they could pass up unwanted items without engaging in the hostile act of giving them to a representative of the opposing group.

Among the “positive resources,” the six-year-olds allocated 75 percent to their own group’s representative, 10 percent to the outsider puppet, and 15 percent to the box. The eight-year-olds showed an even greater bias toward their own group, giving 90 percent of these valuable items to their own puppet, four percent to the other, and six percent to the box.

Among the unwanted items, the six-year-olds allocated 51 percent to the other group’s puppet, 12 percent to their own group’s puppet, and 37 percent to the box. These percentages shifted significantly for the eight-year-olds: They allocated 71 percent to the other group’s puppet, four percent to their own group’s puppet, and 25 percent to the box.

Further analysis revealed that “out-group hate was the dominant motivation for the eight-year-olds’ distributions of negative resources,” the researchers write.

While there were no significant gender differences among the six-year-olds, the eight-year-old boys showed far more disdain for the other group than the eight-year-old girls. They assigned 84 percent of the unwanted items to the outsider puppet; the girls allocated only 60 percent, and put far more of the items into the neutral box.

“Overall, the results indicated that in-group love is already present in children of preschool age, and can motivate in-group-biased behavior,” the researchers conclude, “whereas out-group hate develops only after a child’s sixth birthday.”

In the musical South Pacific, Oscar Hammerstein famously traced the origins of prejudice, declaring: “You’ve got to be carefully taught, before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate.”

He clearly got the time frame right. Unfortunately, the form of instruction he describes seems to occur spontaneously, and the child absorbs it easily.

That said, these results may not be as depressing as they seem. Buttelmann and Böhm note that, if in-group love develops before out-group hate, parents and educators can teach tolerance by “building on humans’ inherent prosocial nature.”

“Children, and in particular boys, should be taught as early as preschool age that intragroup cooperation and loyalty are valuable and beneficial for humanity,” they write, “only if they do not imply out-group derogation at the same time.”

In other words, there’s a school-age window of a year or two before disdain for outsiders kicks in—a time when kids are presumably receptive to a message of co-existence and cooperation. For all our sakes, we had better take advantage of it.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 17 • 4:00 PM

Why Gun Control Groups Have Moved Away From an Assault Weapons Ban

A decade after the ban expired, gun control groups say that focusing on other policies will save more American lives.


September 17 • 2:00 PM

Can You Make Two People Like Each Other Just By Telling Them That They Should?

OKCupid manipulates user data in an attempt to find out.


September 17 • 12:00 PM

Understanding ISIL Messaging Through Behavioral Science

By generating propaganda that taps into individuals’ emotional and cognitive states, ISIL is better able motivate people to join their jihad.


September 17 • 10:00 AM

Pulling Punches: Why Sports Leagues Treat Most Offenders With Leniency

There’s a psychological explanation for the weak punishment given to Ray Rice before a video surfaced that made a re-evaluation unavoidable.


September 17 • 9:44 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: Portlandia Is Dying

Build an emerald city. Attract the best and brightest with glorious amenities. They will come and do nothing.



September 17 • 8:00 AM

Why Don’t We Have Pay Toilets in America?

Forty years ago, thanks to an organization founded by four high school friends, human rights beat out the free market—and now we can all pee for free.


September 17 • 6:32 AM

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists’ appetites.


September 17 • 6:00 AM

The Grateful Dig: An Archaeologist Excavates a Tie-Dyed Modern Stereotype

What California’s senior state archaeologist discovered in the ruins of a hippie commune.


September 17 • 4:00 AM

The Strong Symbolic Power of Emptying Pockets

Researchers find the symbolic act of emptying a receptacle can impact our behavior, and not for the better.


September 16 • 4:00 PM

Why Is LiveJournal Helping Russia Block a Prominent Critic of Vladimir Putin?

The U.S. blogging company is showing an error message to users inside Russia who try to read the blog of Alexei Navalny, a prominent politician and critic of the Russian government.


September 16 • 2:00 PM

Man Up, Ladies! … But Not Too Much

Too often, women are asked to display masculine traits in order to be successful in the workplace.



September 16 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Brilliant 12-Year-Old?

Charles Wang is going to rule the world.


September 16 • 10:09 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance wasn’t a place, but an era of migration. It would have happened even without New York City.


September 16 • 10:00 AM

A Law Professor Walks Into a Creative Writing Workshop

One academic makes the case for learning how to write.



September 16 • 7:23 AM

Does Not Checking Your Buddy’s Facebook Updates Make You a Bad Friend?

An etiquette expert, a social scientist, and an old pal of mine ponder the ever-shifting rules of friendship.



September 16 • 6:12 AM

3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn’t have any extra emotional impact.


September 16 • 6:00 AM

What Color Is Your Pygmy Goat?

The fierce battle over genetic purity, writ small. Very small.



September 15 • 4:00 PM

The Average Prisoner Is Visited Only Twice While Incarcerated

And black prisoners receive even fewer visitors.


September 15 • 2:00 PM

Gambling With America’s Health

The public health costs of legal gambling.


September 15 • 12:23 PM

The Scent of a Conservative

We are attracted to the body odor of others with similar political beliefs, according to new research.


Follow us


Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn't have any extra emotional impact.

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.

Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you'd be if the government didn't interfere with your life, but that's not what the research shows.

Give Yourself a Present for the Future

Psychologists discover that we underestimate the value of looking back.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.