Posted on November 19, 2007

Study Finds White Children More Positive Toward Blacks After Learning About Racism

EurekAlert, November 15, 2007

Public release date: 15-Nov-2007

Contact: Rebecca Bigler

[email protected]


University of Texas at Austin

AUSTIN, Texas—Challenging the idea that racism education could be harmful to students, a new study from The University of Texas at Austin found the results of learning about historical racism are primarily positive. The study appears in the November/December issue of the journal Child Development.

Psychologists Rebecca Bigler and Julie Milligan Hughes found white children who received history lessons about discrimination against famous African Americans had significantly more positive attitudes toward African Americans than those who received lessons with no mention of racism. African-American children who learned about racism did not differ in their racial attitudes from those who heard lessons that omitted the racism information, the study showed.

“There is considerable debate about when and how children should be taught about racism,” says Bigler, director of the university’s Gender and Racial Attitudes Lab. “But little research has examined elementary-school-aged childrenís cognitive and emotional reactions to such lessons.”

To examine the consequences for white and African-American children of learning about historical racism, the researchers presented biographical lessons about 12 historical figures (six African Americans and six European Americans) to two groups of children ages 6-11.

For each group, some lessons provided information about racism, such as racially biased hiring practices and segregation, while others omitted this information. After the lessons, the children were interviewed about their racial attitudes and reactions, including guilt, defensiveness and anger.

Both white and black children who learned about racism were more likely to value racial fairness and to express greater satisfaction with the lesson. White children whose lessons included information on discrimination showed more defensiveness, had more racial guilt (if they were older than 7) and were less likely to accept stereotypical views about African Americans.

While the study shows learning about racism is beneficial to both black and white children, Bigler notes the lessons did not present information about the most violent forms of racial prejudice (for example, lynching).

“Additional work on the topic is needed so that we know how to best present to children some of the more abhorrent truths from U.S. history,” Bigler says.

[Editor’s Note: “Consequences of Learning About Historical Racism Among European American and African American Children” can be read as an HTML file here. It can be read or downloaded as a PDF document file here. A subscription or single purchase is required. The abstract appears below.]

To cite this article: Julie M. Hughes, Rebecca S. Bigler, Sheri R. Levy (2007)

Consequences of Learning About Historical Racism Among European American and African American Children

Child Development 78 (6), 1689—1705.



Consequences of Learning About Historical Racism Among European American and African American Children

Julie M. Hughes [1] and Rebecca S. Bigler [1], Sheri R. Levy [2]

[1] University of Texas—Austin

[2] State University of New York—Stony Brook

This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (0213660). The empirical data of Study 1 were collected by the first author under the direction of the second author as part of the requirements for the Master of Arts degree in psychology. The authors thank Catharine Echols and Judith Langlois for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. They also thank the directors, staff, and students of St. Cloud State University’s Summer Math and Reading Camp, North Park YMCA, and Extend-a-Care for their participation in this research.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Julie M. Hughes, Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station A8000, Austin, TX 78712. Electronic mail may be sent to [email protected]


Knowledge about racism is a critical component of educational curricula and contemporary race relations. To examine children’s responses to learning about racism, European American (Study 1; N = 48) and African American (Study 2; N = 69) elementary-aged children (ages 6—11) received history lessons that included information about racism experienced by African Americans (racism condition), or otherwise identical lessons that omitted this information (control condition). Children’s racial attitudes and cognitive and affective responses to the lessons were assessed. Among European American children, racism condition participants showed less biased attitudes toward African Americans than control condition participants. Among African American children, attitudes did not vary by condition. Children in the two conditions showed several different cognitive and affective responses to the lessons.