Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of Psychology

Degree Type

Education Specialist


Many studies have examined how children categorize various objects but few studies have looked at how children categorize race. Research shows that adults tend to essentialize race; that is, they treat race as a natural kind (Madole, Keleman, Glerum & Webb, 1999). Do children treat race in the same manner? This study examines how preschool children, second grade children, and fourth grade children treat race. Children were presented with stories and pictures describing a transformation to a person's racial characteristics (that is, a change in external appearance from white to black or black to white features) and asked to what category the person belonged after the changes. To examine whether children treat race more like a biological change or an artifact change, similar stories described changes to animals and to artifacts. It was hypothesized that the development of essentialization is related to an acquired knowledge of inheritance. Results showed that essentialization of racial categories follows a developmental progression in which preschool children do not essentialize race, some second grade students have started to essentialize race, and a greater number of fourth graders essentialize race. The introduction of inheritance did not significantly affect children's essentialization of race. Overall, some hypotheses were confirmed, others were disconfirmed, and some unexpected results were found.


Education | Psychology