Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


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

October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


October 20 • 4:00 AM

Coming Soon: The Anatomy of Ignorance


October 17 • 4:00 PM

What All Military Families Need to Know About High-Cost Lenders

Lessons from over a year on the beat.


October 17 • 2:00 PM

The Majority of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

A world without “he.” Or “she.”


October 17 • 11:01 AM

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.


October 17 • 10:00 AM

Can Science Fiction Spur Science Innovation?

Without proper funding, the answer might not even matter.


October 17 • 8:00 AM

Seattle, the Incredible Shrinking City

Seattle is leading the way in the micro-housing movement as an affordable alternative to high-cost city living.


October 17 • 6:00 AM

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

Can an intense belief that you’re about to die actually kill you? Researchers are learning more about “voodoo death” and how it isn’t limited to superstitious, foreign cultures.


October 17 • 4:00 AM

That Arts Degree Is Paying Off

A survey of people who have earned degrees in the arts find they are doing relatively well, although their education didn’t provide much guidance on managing a career.


October 16 • 4:00 PM

How (Some) Economists Are Like Doomsday Cult Members

Cognitive dissonance and clinging to paradigms even in the face of accumulated anomalous facts.


October 16 • 2:00 PM

The Latest—and Most Mysterious—Player in the Nasty Battle Over Net Neutrality

As the FCC considers how to regulate Internet providers, the telecom industry’s stealth campaign for hearts and minds encompasses everything from art installations to LOLcats.


October 16 • 12:00 PM

How Many Ads Is Too Many Ads?

The conundrum of online video advertising.


October 16 • 11:00 AM

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.


October 16 • 10:00 AM

The False Promises of Higher Education

Danielle Henderson spent six years and $60,000 on college and beyond. The effects of that education? Not as advertised.


October 16 • 8:00 AM

Faster Justice, Closer to Home: The Power of Community Courts

Community courts across the country are fighting judicial backlog and lowering re-arrest rates.


October 16 • 6:00 AM

Killing Your Husband to Save Yourself

Without proper legal instruments, women with abusive partners are often forced to make a difficult choice: kill or be killed.


October 16 • 4:00 AM

Personality Traits Linked to Specific Diseases

New research finds neurotic people are more likely to suffer a serious health problem.


October 16 • 2:00 AM

Comparing Apples to the Big Apple: Yes, Washington, D.C., Is More Expensive Than New York City

Why shouldn’t distant locales tied to jobs in the urban core count in a housing expenditure study?


October 15 • 4:00 PM

Why Asian American Parents Are the Least Likely to Spank Their Kids

Highly educated, middle-class parents are less likely to use corporal punishment to discipline their children than less-educated, working-class, and poor parents.


October 15 • 2:00 PM

The Federal Government’s New Doctor Payments Website Is Worthy of a Recall

Charles Ornstein takes a test drive using the federal government’s new website for drug and device payments and finds it virtually unusable.


October 15 • 12:00 PM

How Cosmetic Companies Get Away With Pseudoscience

Anti-aging creams make absurd claims that they repair DNA damage or use stem-cell treatments. When cosmetics companies and dermatologists partner to maximize profits, who is responsible for protecting the consumer?


Follow us


Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

Brain’s Reward Center Does More Than Manage Rewards

Nucleus accumbens tracks many different connections in the world, a new rat study suggests.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

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