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How to make kids prejudiced based on t-shirt colors

flickr user el frijole1.jpg
flickr user el frijole

 Today, on State of Opportunity, we're taking a look at research done by University of Texas psychologist Rebecca Bigler. 

Bigler's work focuses on how kids develop prejudice, particularly around race and gender. But to study kids' attitudes, Bigler has conducted a series of experiments using summer school students and colored t-shirts. 

In the experiments, kids were assigned a t-shirt color at the start of the summer. In each class, there were two colors. Over the course of 14 experiments, Bigler and her fellow researchers studied a number of variables to determine whether kids would develop biases based on which t-shirt color group they were in. 

One thing they found is that if adults ignore the t-shirts, kids will too. But if t-shirt color becomes an important way of grouping the students, they'll develop biases around it. 

Bigler ran one study where teachers merely used the t-shirt colors to group the kids, much like teachers do with gender. 

"So they said, 'Good morning reds and blues, and blues line up, and let’s sit red-blue, red-blue. What a good blue group member,'" Bigler says. "And so the teachers were never biased. They were never unfair. They never linked the groups to traits. But what we found that when the teachers labeled those groups, just like in the case of gender, the kids became biased."

Check out the full story on our State of Opportunity page. 

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Radio’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Radio since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.