Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Beliefs of Social Equality and Attribution of Traits to In-Group and Out-Group Peers: A Study of Italian Children

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Beliefs of Social Equality and Attribution of Traits to In-Group and Out-Group Peers: A Study of Italian Children

Article excerpt


The study investigated firstly, gender and age differences with respect to the beliefs of social equality, a cognitive component of system justification; secondly, the attribution of positive and negative traits to in-group and out-group peers in school age children. Thirdly and finally, we explored the relations between social equality and attribution of traits, controlling for gender and age.

163 Italian children (M age = 8.37 years, SD = 1.11; 49% girls) participated in the study. They were administered a short self-report questionnaire investigating social equality and were asked to attribute positive and negative traits to the figures of two children (one in-group child with "white" skin; one out-group child with "black" skin). We found that: a) older children perceived higher social equality and girls were less likely than boys to attribute negative traits to the in-group peer; b) children who had higher social equality beliefs were less likely to attribute negative traits and more likely to attribute positive traits to both in-group and out-group peers, also controlling for gender and age. Increasing the beliefs of social equality in children appears a useful educational intervention for promoting both in-group and out-group non-discriminatory peer relations.

KEYWORDS: social equality, trait attribution, children.


Immigrant children are the fastest growing segment in all western child population, including Italy, the country where this study was conducted (Ine, 2008; Istat, 2008). These children come from a variety of nations, speak a multitude of languages, and have a range of ethnic, cultural, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Sometimes some physical characteristics, such as the color of the skin and/or a traditional dressing, suggest a foreign origin with respect to the country where they live and indicate their belongings to the out-group. Besides, one may be perceived and categorized as out-group and therefore stigmatized as "diverse" even if he/she feels an in-group member.

Nevertheless, some episodes showed that in many Western countries immigrant and/or diverse people, including children, may be victims of discrimination and even of racism (Zincone, 2001; Johnson & Lambrinos, 1985; Licata & Klein, 2002). Episodes of discrimination and racism are often supported by negative stereotypes versus the out-group and in-group favoritism. Furthermore, violence and discrimination towards peers in general have dramatically increased at all school levels (Menesini, 2008). Therefore, the investigation of the processes underlying discrimination among children is becoming an increasingly pressing issue for scholars, as well as educators and policymakers.

We do not want to enter here in the large debate (e.g., Jost, Burgess, & Mosso, 2001), which has concerned especially adults, about the possible relations among ideology (Havel, 1991) and other belief systems that serve as excuses and justifications for discriminatory individual, political, social, and economic behavior and attitudes. We would just mention that according to the system justification theory some ideology and beliefs make people feel better when expressing in-group favouritism and negative stereotypes towards the out-group (Jost & Hunyady, 2005). However, other previous studies on social dominance (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999), ego justification (Fein & Spencer, 1997), and social identity (Tajfel & Turner, 1986) contributed to an appreciation of the functional basis of stereotype content. A key assumption is that people in general, and also children from the age of three (Aboud & Amato, 2001), are motivated to evaluate their own group positively, enhancing or maintaining a positive sense of their social self. For children, learning an adequate understanding of social rules, regulations, and practices is crucial in the process of growing up (Fischer & Connell, 2003). …

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