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Preschoolers’ Perceptions of Muslims: Evidence for Anti-Muslim Bias

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

According to Social Cognitive Developmental theory, racial bias develops early in childhood and is influenced by both social environment and cognitive ability (Levy, Lytle, Shin, & Hughes, 2016). Considering that both adults and older children show prejudice against Muslims in post 9/11 America (Soltani, 2016; Brown, Ali, Stone & Jewel, 2017), preschoolers may also show anti-Muslim bias. Studies about anti-Muslim prejudice in young children are extremely rare. The present study provides baseline information about anti-Muslim bias in preschoolers and asks how such bias (if it exists at all) is distinct from other more widely studied forms of prejudice.

Forty 3-5 year-old predominantly white preschoolers (M = 55.5, SD = 7.33) were recruited from a childcare center in rural Pennsylvania (58% female). During two sessions a month apart, children responded to five measures of bias. First, children were shown four cards: one with a photo of a young girl in a hijab, one with a photo of a young girl without hijab, one that said “Both,” and one that said “Nobody”. For all measures, participants pointed to one card in response to each of a series of descriptions read by the researcher. Children first completed an adapted version of the RAI (Clark, Yovanoff, & Tate, 2017), a valid and reliable measure of racial attitudes typically used with photos of black and white children, included in order to compare preschoolers’ bias against Muslims with more established findings about bias against black children. Next, children completed a measure of Muslim-specific bias designed for this study based on stereotypes of Muslims prevalent in the media. Participants then completed behavioral questions addressing willingness to act on attitudes toward Muslims. Next, children completed alternate versions of the Muslim-specific and behavior measures that included photos of a black and white girl. The purpose of these measures was to ask if children’s attitudes toward Muslims were unique to this group or if they reflected general attitudes toward those who are different. This assessment was particularly important as it allowed us to measure the validity of the new questions as specific measures of anti-Muslim bias, not just “othering.”

Cronbach’s alphas for all measures ranged from .61 to .91. Moreover, children’s scores on each measure correlated significantly from Time 1 to Time 2, suggesting reasonable test-retest reliability (see Table 1). Single-sample t-tests compared possible anti-Muslim bias on each measure to an unbiased baseline score of 1 (see Table 2). Results indicated that preschoolers expressed a significant Muslim-specific bias against the girl in the hijab across the RAI, Muslim Specific Questions, and the Behavioral Measure at Times 1 and 2. This bias did not carry over to the black and white girl photo set. This trend supports our hypothesis that children have a specific Muslim bias that is distinct from other more general prejudice.

Overall, preschool-aged children showed a significant Muslim-specific bias and expressed willingness to engage in discriminatory behaviors toward Muslims wearing hijab. This Muslim-specific bias highlights the pervasiveness of the media and calls for education and intervention efforts.

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