Race Salience and Essentialist Thinking in Racial Stereotype Development


  • We are extremely grateful to all the children, parents, teachers, and administrators who helped make this project possible. We would also like to thank Archana Asundi, Jillian Russo, Megan Oswald, Monica Malowney, Robyn Yano, and Sara Kaplan for their assistance with data collection and coding. This research was supported by a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship to Kristin Pauker and National Institute of Health Award (R01 MH070833-02) granted to Nalini Ambady.

concerning this article should be addressed to Kristin Pauker, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Building 420, Jordan Hall, Stanford, CA 94305. Electronic mail may be sent to kpauker@stanford.edu.


The authors explored the emergence and antecedents of racial stereotyping in 89 children ages 3–10 years. Children completed a number of matching and sorting tasks, including a measure designed to assess their knowledge and application of both positive and negative in-group and out-group stereotypes. Results indicate that children start to apply stereotypes to the out-group starting around 6 years of age. Controlling for a number of factors, 2 predictors contributed significantly toward uniquely explaining the use of these stereotypes: race salience (i.e., seeing and organizing by race) and essentialist thinking (i.e., believing that race cannot change). These results provide insight into how and when real-world interventions aimed at altering the acquisition of racial stereotypes may be implemented.