In Singapore’s ethnically diverse community, promoting intergroup harmony is essential. As racial biases are known to be firmly entrenched and resistant to change once we enter adulthood, it is crucial to understand the nature and early development of such biases in order to develop early prevention and intervention strategies. The project aims to investigate the development of race preferences in Singaporean children with the goal of gaining knowledge about the major contributors to pro-in-group behaviour during childhood, as well as key insights about the relationship between identity development and social attitude formation.
Insights from the project will lay the empirical foundation for developing novel early intervention methods, and an evidence-based, experimentally-validated pre-school intergroup harmony curriculum. The latter will help shape children’s identity to encompass the values of inclusivity, diversity, and unity. The project will contribute to the enhancement of pre-school education, through Nanyang Technological University’s collaboration with NTUC First Campus, which will include the implementation of the intergroup harmony curriculum at NTUC First Campus pre-schools.
This research investigated the relation between racial categorization and implicit racial preference in majority and minority children. Chinese (N = 87) and Indian (N = 71), 3 to 7 year old from Singapore (N = 158) categorised Chinese and Indian faces by race and had their own-race preferences measured both implicitly and explicitly. As a group, Chinese children showed implicit own-race preference, unlike the Indian children, who were overall neutral in their preferences for own- or other-race. Implicit preference was measured by the time children took to match an own-race or other-race face to a cartoon smile or sad face, depending on whether the matching rule is “own-race choose smile” or “own-race choose sad”. There is a pro-own-race preference if children are quicker to associate their own race with the smile face than the sad face.
Regardless of ethnicity, children’s racial categorization performance, i.e. how well they categorised faces as Chinese and Indian, correlated positively with their implicit preference. (The better the child is at telling people of two races apart, the more likely they are to have an implicit own-race preference). Also, Chinese children, but not Indian children, displayed explicit own-race preference when choosing who to assign desirable jobs such as their dance teacher, art teacher, doctor, etc. In conclusion, we found that Chinese preschoolers showed implicit and explicit pro-own-race preference but Indian preschoolers did not. This is likely due to different levels of familiarity with own and other race, where children prefer faces which look the most familiar to them. Thus, the more exposed the children are to faces of their own race, the more they prefer it due to familiarity. This main finding of the association between racial categorization of faces and implicit preference suggests that we may need to rethink approaches to multi-cultural and multi-racial education.
The current preschool racial harmony education labels ethnic groups by categories, emphasizes the differences between the ethnic groups, and teach children about other ethnicities as a group and not as individuals. Our findings support recommendations for highlighting the similarities across ethnic groups and learning about people of other races as individuals so that children will be more familiar with members of other races.
Note: As the first study, we chose Chinese and Indian face stimuli because of the greatest perceptual differences in the faces. Because the children we tested were as young as 3 years of age, we wanted to increase the chances that they can tell the faces apart.