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Preschool Children's Attention to Environmental Messages About Groups: Social Categorization and the Origins of Intergroup Bias


  • The data reported in this paper were collected by the first author, under the supervision of the second author, as part of the requirements for the master of arts degree in psychology. This work was supported by funds from the Debra Lobliner Fellowship. The authors wish to thank all of the children, staff, and parents associated with the participating classrooms. The authors are especially grateful to Sandra Briley, Marisol Cedillo, and Linda Karslake of the University of Texas Child Care Center and Virginia Braden, Julie Hasselmeier, Angi Nance, Brittany Podsim, and Terri Tafoya-Diaz of the Hyde Park Baptist Child Development Center for their assistance with the project.

concerning this article should be address to Meagan M. Patterson, Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712. Electronic mail may be sent to


This study was designed to examine the effects of adults' labeling and use of social groups on preschool children's intergroup attitudes. Children (N=87, aged 3–5) attending day care were given measures of classification skill and self-esteem and assigned to membership in a novel (“red” or “blue”) social group. In experimental classrooms, teachers used the color groups to label children and organize the classroom. In control classrooms, teachers ignored the color groups. After 3 weeks, children completed multiple measures of intergroup attitudes. Results indicated that children in both types of classrooms developed ingroup-biased attitudes. As expected, children in experimental classrooms showed greater ingroup bias on some measures than children in control classrooms.