Stereotyping: It’s child’s play!

The Pediatric Insider

© 2010 Roy Benaroch, MD

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Oh, but we do. And our children do it too.

Researchers showed adults pairs of photographs of participants from 2002 French parliamentary elections, asking them to guess which were the winners. The study participants were Swiss, and had no idea who the people in the photos were– they were asked only to choose which face seemed more “competent.” As a group, these adults chose the actual winners from the French election 75% of the time.

Think about that. 75% of the time, the candidate who was judged to look the most like a winner turned out to be the actual winner in an actual political election.

There was another step in this study: the researchers showed the same pairs of candidate faces to a group of children, asking them which adult they would want to be a “captain” of their ship in a game. Remarkably, the children were also able to predict the correct winner of the French election 75% of the time.

Now, maybe there is an honest, useful heuristic here– a way that we all have learned to subconsciously judge, just by appearance, how good a person would be as a leader. Maybe. But when you think about it, how likely is a snap judgment based only on appearances likely to be correct?  And is this the way we want our children to learn to make these decisions?

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