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Majority group children expect that ethnic out-group peers feel fewer positive but more negative emotions than in-group peers

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Across two studies majority group children’s (8-13 years) perception of positive and negative emotions in ethnic in-group and disadvantaged ethnic out-group peers was examined. Study 1 (N = 302) showed that children expected in-group peers to feel better in a positive situation compared to out-group peers. Whereas, in a negative situation, children expected in-group peers to feel less bad compared to out-group peers, particularly when they evaluated the in-group as very positive. Study 2 (N = 201) replicates these findings across multiple positive and negative situations, and additionally shows that in very negative situations children expect in-group and out-group peers to feel equally bad. These results suggest that children’s perception of emotions in others is influenced by ethnic group membership.
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Majority group children expect that ethnic out-group peers feel fewer
positive but more negative emotions than in-group peers
Jellie Sierksma
a,b
and Gijsbert Bijlstra
b
a
Waisman Center, University of WisconsinMadison, Madison, WI, USA;
b
Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University,
Nijmegen, The Netherlands
ABSTRACT
Across two studies majority group childrens(813 years) perception of positive and
negative emotions in ethnic in-group and disadvantaged ethnic out-group peers
was examined. Study 1 (N= 302) showed that children expected in-group peers to
feel better in a positive situation compared to out-group peers. Whereas, in a
negative situation, children expected in-group peers to feel less bad compared to
out-group peers, particularly when they evaluated the in-group as very positive.
Study 2 (N= 201) replicates these ndings across multiple positive and negative
situations, and additionally shows that in very negative situations children expect
in-group and out-group peers to feel equally bad. These results suggest that
childrens perception of emotions in others is inuenced by ethnic group
membership.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 9 February 2018
Revised 30 October 2018
Accepted 5 November 2018
KEYWORDS
Emotions; ethnicity;
intergroup; children
One major challenge during childhood is to under-
stand what other people are feeling, which is the
focus of developmental studies on emotion under-
standing. As early as 4 months of age children notice
emotional expressions in others (Montague &
Walker-Andrews, 2001), by the age of three they
start to recognise and name basic emotions, and
around 8 years children understand people can have
multiple or mixed emotions in response to a situation
(reviewed in Herba & Phillips, 2004; Pons, Harris, & de
Rosnay, 2004). Moreover, a better understanding of
someones emotional state is related to increased
peer acceptance and popularity (e.g. Cassidy, Parke,
Butkovsky, & Braungart, 1992) as well as empathy
and cooperation in children (see Lagattuta, Hjorts-
vang, & Kennedy, 2014; Paulus & Moore, 2015).
While it has long been recognised in social psychologi-
cal research in adults that our relationships with other
people shape how emotions are perceived (Fischer &
Van Kleef, 2010), the developmental study of
emotion understanding often does not include the
relational context in which emotions are expressed
(see also Herba & Phillips, 2004). As such, we know
little about whether childrens perception of emotions
depends on who is experiencing or expressing these
emotions.
Developmental intergroup research has shown
that the various groups to which children belong
exert strong inuence on how children think and
behave. By the age of four, children who belong to
high-status groups express that they like ethnic in-
group peers more than disadvantaged ethnic out-
group peers (Raabe & Beelmann, 2011) and as they
get older, children develop a better understanding
of intergroup relations (e.g. Levy & Killen, 2008). It is
important to understand whether children, growing
up in increasingly multicultural societies, perceive
emotion dierently in in-group and out-group peers.
This has potential implications for childrens motiv-
ation to engage in social actions (e.g. help or befriend
others) and it could create additional barriers for inter-
group contact or lower the quality of intergroup inter-
actions from an early age onwards. This in turn can
perpetuate prejudice and discrimination over time as
contact is important to ameliorate negative intergroup
attitudes (Raabe & Beelmann, 2011).
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Jellie Sierksma sierksma@wisc.edu
Supplemental data for this article can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2018.1546167
COGNITION AND EMOTION
https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2018.1546167
The current study takes a rst step and examines
how majority group children (813 years) perceive
emotions in ethnic in-group and disadvantaged out-
group peers. Across two studies, children were asked
how they expected an ethnic in-group and an ethnic
out-group peer to feel during typical daily life events
that were either positive, negative (i.e. receiving an
invitation to a birthday party, losing a game; Studies
1 and 2), or very negative (i.e. someones cat is sick;
Study 2). Thus, across these studies we dene chil-
drens perception of intergroup emotions as their
expectation of how in-group and out-group peers
might feel. It could be that children expect in-group
peers to experience more intense emotions (i.e.
happier, more negative emotions) compared to out-
group peers. Or children might be motivated to see
their in-group in the most favourable light and there-
fore expect them to feel happier but less bad com-
pared to out-group peers. Finally, majority group
childrens emotion perception might be unaected
by the ethnic group context. We discuss these possibi-
lities each in turn.
Children attribute more intense emotions
to in-group than out-group peers
When children think about the emotions in-group and
out-group peers might feel in a given situation,
identication with or similarity to this peer might
guide their interpretation of the other peers
emotions. Specically, feelings of similarity could
enhance psychological connectedness and may facili-
tate understanding of how that person feels and acts
(e.g. Batson, 2011; Meltzo,2007; Preston & de Waal,
2002). As a consequence, children might attribute
more intense emotions to in-group peers compared
to out-group peers. Some evidence for this exists in
research with adults. For example, adults tend to attri-
bute more intense emotions to in-group members
than out-group members in the domain of pain per-
ception (Avenanti, Sirigu, & Aglioti, 2010), and when
it concerns feelings of sadness (Gutsell & Inzlicht,
2012) as well as other negative emotions (Neumann,
Boyle, & Chan, 2013).
The idea that in-group members are perceived to
experience more intense emotions also dovetails
with some studies in children. Similar to adults,
White children expect in-group peers to feel more
pain than Black out-group peers (Dore, Homan,
Lillard, & Trawalter, 2014,2018). Moreover, 6-year old
children are more likely to refer to mental states
when talking about in-group compared to out-group
behaviour and perceive in-group faces as more
human compared to out-group faces (i.e. based on
gender and geographic location; McLoughlin & Over,
2017; McLoughlin, Tipper, & Over, 2018). Seeing the
in-group as more human might be related to a
greater psychological connection to in-group peers
and therefore children might attribute more intense
emotions to in-group members. In addition, when
White children are asked to categorise emotions felt
by racial in-group and out-group peers, they attribute
more secondary emotions (i.e. shame and guilt) to
White in-group versus Black out-group peers (Costello
& Hodson, 2014). Although none of these studies
directly tested how children expect in-group and
out-group peers to feel during positive and negative
events, they do suggest that children might expect
in-group peers to feel more intense emotions com-
pared to out-group peers due to enhanced psycho-
logical connectedness. Specically, this would mean
that children expect in-group, compared to out-
group peers, to feel happier when something positive
happens to them. Moreover, when something nega-
tive occurs this would mean they expect in-group
peers to feel worse than out-group peers.
Children attribute more favourable
emotions to in-group than out-group peers
A second possibility is that childrens social identity
concerns guide their perception of emotions in an
intergroup context. Social Identity Theory (Tajfel &
Turner, 1979) postulates that people are motivated
to enhance or maintain a positive and distinctive
sense of their social self. This is achieved by posi-
tively dierentiating ones in-group from a relevant
out-group, so-called in-group favouritism. Develop-
mental studies show that ethnic in-group bias is
present in high-status children from an early age
onwards (Raabe & Beelmann, 2011). While children
might not always be spontaneously motivated to
protect their social identity, this motivation does
play a role when their social identity is salient (e.g.
Sierksma, Thijs, & Verkuyten, 2014) or threatened
(e.g. Nesdale, Maass, Durkin, & Griths, 2005). This
could mean that childrens interpretation of inter-
group emotions is a function of their motivation to
put the in-group in the best possible light compared
the out-group. Consequently, they might perceive
more favourable emotions in in-group compared to
out-group peers.
2J. SIERKSMA AND G. BIJLSTRA
As a case in point, adults more quickly recognise a
happy face of a racial in-group than a happy face of an
out-group member but are sometimes slower to
recognise sadness and anger on in-group compared
to out-group faces (Hugenberg, 2005; Hugenberg &
Bodenhausen, 2003; but see Bijlstra, Holland, & Wig-
boldus, 2010). Furthermore, adults express being
happy when out-group members experience negative
emotions but feeling more negative when out-group
members experience positive emotions (Epstude &
Mussweiler, 2009). This nding is consistent with
research by Seger, Smith, Kinias, and Mackie (2009),
who asked adults to predict out-group emotions and
compared these to actual emotion reports by these
out-groups. Results showed that adults tended to
underestimate positive emotions but overestimate
negative emotions in out-groups. In addition, adults
have been found to downplay feelings of guilt about
the wrongdoings of their in-group (Doosje, Bran-
scombe, Spears, & Manstead, 1998), also suggesting
that their motivation to see the in-group positively
inuences emotions.
To our knowledge, no studies have specically
examined whether childrens social identity concerns
inuence their emotion perception in intergroup con-
texts. Some developmental intergroup research that
has included measures of emotion does suggest,
however, that childrens motivation to see their group
in a positive light can inuence their reasoning about
emotions. For example, when reasoning about inter-
group exclusion, children belonging to the majority
group in Switzerland attribute dierent emotions to
high-status peers who exclude others than do children
who belong to a minority group. Specically, minority
children expected majority peers to be happier when
excluding others (Malti, Killen, & Gasser, 2012). More-
over, Weller and Lagattuta (2013,2014)haveshown
that children expect in-group peers to feel better
about helping in-group compared to out-group peers
in the racial and gender domain (although in the
latter study this was not found for boys). In addition,
children tend to feel more shame when a member of
their group is bullied, compared to when a member
of an out-group is bullied (Jones, Manstead, & Living-
stone, 2009), which suggests that being bullied is threa-
tening to a positive social identity and this eects
childrens own emotions. Although this work solely
focused on childrens perception of emotions in in-
group peers (i.e. no comparison with how out-group
peers might feel in the same situation, Weller & Lagat-
tuta, 2013, p. 2104) or how children might feel
themselves, it suggests that social identity concerns
could be important in the emotions children perceive
in others.
In sum, children might attribute more favourable
emotions to in-group compared to out-group peers.
As such, their perception of emotions in an intergroup
context could be biased toward attributing more nega-
tive emotions or fewer positive emotions to out-group
compared to in-group peers. In a positive situation, this
mightsimplymeanthatchildrenexpectin-grouppeers
to feel better compared to out-group peers, whereas in
a negative situation they might expect out-group peers
to feel worse than in-group peers.
Ethnic group membership does not
inuence emotion perception
It is also important to note that children (and adults)
do not always attribute dierent (levels of) emotions
to in-group than out-group peers. For example, Cost-
ello and Hodson (2014) did not nd that children
attributed primary emotions dierently according to
racial group membership. Moreover, Martin, Bennett,
and Murray (2008) showed that children (67 and
1011 years of age) did not predict that national in-
group or out-group peers would feel dierently
immediately after winning or losing a game. Similarly,
some research suggests that adults and children
experience equal levels of empathy for in-group and
out-group members, which could indicate that they
might assign equally intense emotions to them. For
example, White and Asian adults expressed that they
could equally easily empathise with racial in-group
and out-group members when it concerned positive
emotions (Neumann et al., 2013) and adults have
been shown to experience similar levels of empathy
for in-group and out-group members in need of
help (for an overview see Stürmer & Siem, 2017). Like-
wise, in a friendship context, children expected in-
group and out-group peers to feel just as sad about
needing help (Sierksma, Thijs, & Verkuyten, 2015).
This might mean that the ethnic group context does
not inuence emotion perception.
Hypotheses
In sum, based on previous research we can formulate
three plausible hypotheses for the present research.
On the one hand, following the rst perspective, chil-
dren might feel a more psychological connectedness
with in-group than out-group peers, which may
COGNITION AND EMOTION 3
facilitate an understanding of how that person feels.
Therefore, we could predict that children expect in-
group peers to feel more positive and negative
emotions compared to out-group peers. On the
other hand, based on research focusing on social iden-
tity motives, we could predict that children might
expect in-group peers to feel more positive emotions,
but fewer negative emotions compared to out-group
peers. Last, ethnic group membership might not
inuence childrens perception of emotions in in-
group and out-group peers.
The previous studies conducted on intergroup
emotions in adults and children oer insight into
how children might perceive in-group and out-group
emotions. These dierent domains of research have
informed the present research, but it is important to
note that our goal here is not to test these as compet-
ing models. Rather, this research oers a rst step in
understanding whether and how children dieren-
tiate at all in their perception of intergroup emotions.
In-group and out-group evaluation
The current research also considers the role of chil-
drens in-group favouritism and out-group negativity
as possible underlying mechanisms of their percep-
tion of intergroup emotions. In adults, identication
with the in-group is often a crucial component for
group-based emotions (e.g. Doosje et al., 1998; Iyer
& Leach, 2008; Mackie & Smith, 2015). This might
mean that if the group context inuences how
majority group children perceive intergroup emotions,
this will emerge particularly in children that show
stronger in-group favouritism or stronger out-group
negativity. For example, children who show stronger
in-group positivity might be especially motivated to
understand how in-group peers feel and as such per-
ceive more intense happiness and sadness in them
compared to out-group peers. However, stronger in-
group favouritism is typically associated with more
in-group-oriented behaviour and the motivation to
protect the in-group from threats (Mackie & Smith,
2015; Nesdale et al., 2005) and this might thus lead
children to perceive more favourable emotions in in-
group peers and unfavourable emotions in out-
group peers. It could also be that out-group negativity
guides childrens perception of intergroup emotions
or that intergroup evaluations could be of particular
importance only when children actually evaluate the
in-group much more positively compared to out-
group peers (i.e. a dierence score).
Overview of the present research
The current research focuses on Dutch childrens per-
ception of emotions in in-group and Turkish out-
group peers. Many people from Turkey came to the
Netherlands in the 60s as guest workers, and they
are currently one of the three largest non-western
minority groups in the Netherlands (Statistics Nether-
lands, 2016). It is therefore likely a familiar out-group
for Dutch children. Children evaluate the Turkish
negatively (Sierksma et al., 2014) and attribute a disad-
vantaged status to them (Verkuyten & Kinket, 2000)
compared to the Dutch in-group. The children
studied probably do not have much direct contact
with TurkishDutch peers, because they all attended
schools in which the large majority of children had a
native Dutch background.
The children studied were aged between 8 and 13
years. Children this age have a well-developed under-
standing of emotions (e.g. Pons et al., 2004) and inter-
group relations (e.g. Levy & Killen, 2008). At the same
time, there are still developmental changes in how
and when children this age prioritise groups in their
reasoning (e.g. Killen, Rutland, Abrams, Mulvey, &
Hitti, 2013) and what children know about groups in
their society (e.g. McKown & Weinstein, 2003). This
developmental pattern means interventions aimed
at preventing group-based biases can take advantage
of childrens sophisticated intergroup knowledge
while these are still less rigid than those of adults.
This research thus oers valuable insight about how
to change group bases biases, especially because
interventions aimed at younger children are often
ineective (see Aboud et al., 2012). However,
because children have advanced emotion and group
knowledge, we did not expect to nd age dierences
in the current studies.
Study 1
For both studies, we report how we determined our
sample size, all data exclusions (if any), all manipula-
tions, and all measures.
Method
Participants and design
Recommendations of Cohen (1992) were followed to
estimate the sample size of the current studies before-
hand, resulting in a minimum of 64 participants per
cell such that there was an 80% chance to detect a
4J. SIERKSMA AND G. BIJLSTRA
medium-sized eect for the group context at an alpha
level of .05. Because this survey was, however, part of a
larger survey we collected data for a total of 401 chil-
dren of seven schools. For the analyses, we selected
the 321 children who indicated that their parents
were of Dutch origin and who self-identied as
Dutch. Children came from schools where the majority
of children was native Dutch. Moreover, a total of 19
children had missing values on some measures. The
nal sample consisted of 302 children, aged
between 8 and 13 years (M= 10.61, SD = 0.96) and
50.2% were female.
Children read two short stories. A 2 (in-group vs.
out-group; between subjects) by 2 (positive vs. nega-
tive event; within subjects) design was used. Gender
of the protagonist was counterbalanced across
stories and between participants (i.e. each participant
either read a positive story about a boy and a negative
story about a girl, or a positive story about a girl and a
negative story about a boy).
Materials and Procedure
Children were tested in their classroom under the
supervision of a research assistant and their
teacher. They were given a short booklet and
always rst answered questions about positive
emotions, followed by negative emotions and after
several measures unrelated to the present research,
reported their in-group and out-group evaluation.
Only children with parental consent participated. At
the time of data collection ethical approval was
not required for non-invasive survey research at
the institute where the research was conducted.
However, the research described adheres to APÁs
ethical principles of psychologists and code of
conduct and ethical approval was obtained for
Study 2, which closely resembles the materials and
procedure of Study 1.
Stories. Two stories were designed that represented
everyday life experiences for children. Childrens posi-
tive emotion rating was measured with: Saskia is a
Dutch girl. She has lived in the Netherlands all her
life and all of her friends are Dutch. During the
school break, a girl asks her if she would like to
come to her birthday party this weekend. For the
negative event children read Tim is a Dutch boy. He
has lived in the Netherlands all his life and all of his
friends are Dutch. He is playing a card game with his
friends. He loses.
Ethnic group membership. Similar to previous
research (Sierksma et al., 2014), group membership
of the protagonist was varied by using typical
Turkish names (Mohammed for a boy and Naima for
a girl) and by describing the peers ethnicity and
those of his or her friends as either Dutch or Turkish,
and country where he or she lived as The Netherlands
or Turkey. Previous research shows that individual
exemplars of an ethnic category elicit intergroup con-
siderations in children (e.g. Sierksma, 2018; Weller &
Lagattuta, 2013). To enhance the salience of the inter-
group context (see Sierksma et al., 2014), before
reading the stories, children were rst asked to
which group they belonged. They could choose from
Dutch,Turkishor Other.
Manipulation check. To check to what extent children
perceived the peer as an in-group or out-group
members, after each story they were asked: How
similar is (name) to you?. Answers were given on a
5-point scale ranging from not at all(1) to in
between(3) to very much(5).
Emotion rating. Subsequently, children were asked:
How do you think he (OR she) feels?. For each
story, children were asked to rate 3 emotions on a 5-
point scale ranging from no, absolutely not(1) to
in between(3) to yes, very much(5). For the posi-
tive event, we used three synonyms of the word
happy in Dutch (i.e. blij, gelukkig, vrolijk). For the nega-
tive event, three emotions that were synonyms for sad
were used (i.e. verdrietig, vervelend, rot). Note that
higher scores thus represent that children attributed
amore intense emotion. Emotion ratings for each
story were all signicantly correlated (ranging from
.40 to .78) and therefore mean scores were computed
for the positive and negative event.
In-group and out-group evaluation. Children evalu-
ated the Dutch in-group and Turkish out-group
(What do you think of Dutch/Turkish people?)ona
7-point smiley face scale ranging from very happy
smile (1) to a large frown (7). This scale has been vali-
dated by Yee and Brown (1992) and extensively and
successfully used in previous research (e.g. Sierksma
et al., 2014,2015). The scale was recoded such that a
higher score indicates a more positive in-group or
out-group evaluation. We computed a dierence
score by subtracting childrens out-group evaluation
from childrens in-group evaluation.
COGNITION AND EMOTION 5
Analyses
The data have a nested structure of stories nested in
children nested in schools. Therefore, a linear mixed
model was specied in MLwiN 3.01 (Charlton,
Rasbash, Browne, Healy, & Cameron, 2017) with
three levels (level 1: stories, level 2: children, level 3:
schools). To examine childrens intergroup emotion
ratings for each event, two orthogonal contrasts
were specied that denoted the dierence between
an in-group (coded 1) and out-group peer (coded
“–1). All continuous measures were standardised.
Thus, independent variables were the two contrasts
and in-group and out-group evaluation, and the
dependent variable was childrens emotion ratings.
MlWin does not provide eect sizes but standardised
betas can be compared.
Results
Children predicted that the protagonist in the positive
story felt happy (M= 3.95, SD = 0.78) and signicantly
above the midpoint of the scale, t(301) = 21.10, p
< .001. For the negative story, children predicted the
protagonist would feel somewhat bad (M= 2.56, SD
= 0.82) and signicantly under the midpoint of the
scale, t(301) = 9.26, p< .001. Children evaluated the
Dutch in-group very positively (M= 6.61, SD = 0.71)
and more positively than the Turkish out-group (M=
4.64, SD = 1.63), t(301) = 20.06, p< .001.
The group context manipulation was successful
because children felt more similar to in-group peers
compared to out-group peers, both when the story
involved a positive event (β= .35, p< .001) and a nega-
tive event (β= .17, p= .003). No main or interaction
eects were found for childrens age (continuous pre-
dictor) or gender. Therefore, these variables were not
included in the model.
Emotion ratings
A signicant main eect was found for the contrast
representing the group context when a positive
event occurred (p= .03; see Table 1). This suggests
that children expected in-group peers to feel better
(M= 4.03, SD = 0.85) compared to out-group peers
(M= 3.86, SD = 0.76) when something positive hap-
pened. In addition, a signicant main eect was
found for the group context when a negative event
occurred (p= .002): children expected in-group peers
to feel less bad (M= 2.42 SD = 0.84) compared to
out-group peers (M= 2.76, SD = 0.93) when something
negative happened.
Intergroup evaluations. For childrens in-group evalu-
ation, there was no main eect or interaction with the
contrast representing intergroup emotion ratings for
the positive event. However, in-group evaluation did
interact signicantly with childrens intergroup
emotion rating in the negative event (p= .01, see
Figure 1). Simple slope analysis showed that when
children were very positive about the in-group (1 SD
above the mean), they expected out-group peers to
feel worse compared to in-group peers (β=.31, p
<.001). Whereas, when children were less positive
about the in-group (1 SD below the mean), they
expected in-group and out-group peers to feel
equally bad (β=.04, p=.63). Moreover, childrens in-
group evaluation was signicantly related to their
expectation that out-group peers would feel worse
(β= .15, p= .01) but not to their prediction about in-
group emotions (β= .02, p= .71). This suggests that
stronger in-group positivity is related to childrens
expectation that out-group peers feel more negative
emotions compared to in-group peers during a mod-
erately negative event. When childrens out-group
evaluation or a dierence score (in-group evaluation
out-group evaluation) was entered no main or inter-
action eects emerged.
Figure 1. The inuence of childrens in-group evaluation on their per-
ception of moderately negative emotions in in-group and out-group
peers, Study 1.
Table 1. Multilevel results for Study 1.
βSE
Contrast positive emotions .12* 0.06
Contrast negative emotions .17** 0.06
In-group evaluation .09 0.08
Contrast positive emotions * in-group evaluation .01 0.06
Contrast negative emotions * in-group evaluation .14* 0.06
Out-group evaluation .07 0.04
Contrast positive emotions * out-group evaluation .06 0.06
Contrast negative emotions * out-group evaluation .01 0.06
Note: *p.05, **p.01, two tailed.
6J. SIERKSMA AND G. BIJLSTRA
Discussion
In Study 1, we examined how ethnic group mem-
bership inuenced childrens perception of emotions
in positive and negative situations. The results show
that majority group children expect ethnic in-group
peers to feel happier compared to disadvantaged
ethnic out-group peers when they are invited to a
birthday party. For the negative event, however,
children expected in-group peers to feel fewer
negative emotions than out-group peers. These
results clearly show that ethnic group membership
inuences emotion perception but are opposed to
the idea that children might perceive more
intense emotions in in-group than out-group peers
because they more easily understand them (e.g.
Batson, 2011; Meltzo,2007; Preston & de Waal,
2002). However, the ndings are in line with the
Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) and
studies that show that adults more easily perceive
positive emotions in the in-group and more easily
perceive negative emotions in out-group members
(e.g. Epstude & Mussweiler, 2009; Hugenberg,
2005; Seger et al., 2009).
That social identity motives might play a role in
childrens intergroup emotion perception is further
corroborated by the exploratory analyses for childrens
intergroup evaluations. Specically, children who eval-
uated their in-group relatively positively, expected
out-group peers to feel more negative emotions com-
pared to in-group peers in a negative situation. In
comparison, children who were relatively less positive
about the in-group, expected in-group and out-group
peers to feel equally bad when something negative
occurred. Moreover, childrens in-group positivity
was only related to their perception of out-group
emotions and did not inuence their perception of
in-group emotions. This suggests that children with
stronger in-group favouritism are motivated to main-
tain a positive in-group identity. And one way to posi-
tively dierentiate the in-group from the out-group is
to attribute more negative emotions to out-group
peers. Interestingly, childrens in-group evaluation
did not inuence their perception of emotions in a
positive situation. Moreover, childrens out-group
evaluation or a dierence score did not inuence
their perception of intergroup emotions in negative
and positive situations. This suggests that in-group
favouritism is the most important moderator but
only for childrens perception of intergroup emotions
in negative situations.
Study 2
Study 2 was conducted with three goals. First, we
aimed to replicate the ndings of Study 1 and there-
fore included the same stories and childrens inter-
group evaluations. Second, to establish whether the
results generalise across various positive and negative
events, we included two additional stories (1 positive
and 1 negative event).
The third goal was to further understand childrens
perception of negative intergroup emotions. Speci-
cally, in Study 1 the means for childrens ratings of
positive and negative emotions dierent because chil-
dren on average did not perceive the protagonist to
feel very bad but did perceive peers to be quite
happy. It might be the case that the extent to which
in-group protection motives drive emotion perception
depends on the intensity of the negative emotions. On
the one hand, following our reasoning about the
ndings of Study 1, a more negative event could be
perceived as more threatening to positive in-group
distinctiveness. Therefore, children might expect out-
group peers to feel worse compared to in-group
peers. On the other hand, research in adults and chil-
dren shows that in-group biases are more likely to
emerge in ambiguous situations or when the situation
allows for the rationalisation of prejudice (e.g.
McGlothlin & Killen, 2006; Saucier, Miller, & Doucet,
2005). This could mean that when children are pre-
sented with a situation in which most children will
clearly feel very negative, they will predict that in-
group and out-group peers feel equally negative.
Method
Participants and design
Five schools took part in Study 2. This study was part
of a larger survey aimed only at children in grade 5
and 6, therefore we did not test children in grade 4
for this study. A total of 237 were tested and 201 chil-
dren indicated they identied as Dutch and their
parents were Dutch. Children were aged between 9
and 13 years (M= 10.85, SD = 0.84), and 45.8% were
girls. Children all came from schools with a high per-
centage of native Dutch children given that only 36
children did not identify as Dutch.
A 2 (in-group vs. out-group; between subjects) by 3
(event: positive, moderately negative, very negative;
within subjects) design was used. The protagonist
gender was counterbalanced across stories and
COGNITION AND EMOTION 7
within participants (i.e. for each type of event children
read one story about a girl and one about a boy).
Moreover, for each type of event 2 stories were used.
Materials and Procedure
Children were tested individually by a research assist-
ant in a mobile lab. They answered the questions on a
laptop and the experiment was programmed in Inqui-
sit 4 (2015). Children always rst rated the emotions
for the six stories and, after several unrelated
measures, reported their in-group and out-group
evaluation. Only children with parental consent par-
ticipated and ethical approval for the study was
obtained (project nr. ECSW2015-2206-321).
Stories. In addition to the two stories of Study 1, a new
story for the positive event (Tim is a Dutch boy. He
has lived his whole life in the Netherlands and all of
his friends are Dutch. After school, he walks home.
Then he nds 1 euro at the road) and moderately
negative event (Eva is a Dutch girl. She has lived
her whole life in the Netherlands and all of her
friends are Dutch. After school, she wants to bike
home, but her tire is at) were included. For a very
negative event, the stories were Soe is a Dutch
girl. She has lived her whole life in the Netherlands
and all her friends are Dutch. When she comes
home after school she wants to pet her kitten. But
her kitten is sick and needs to go to the vetand
Daan is a Dutch boy. He has lived his whole life in
the Netherlands and all of his friends are Dutch. He
is playing soccer. He sprains his ankle. His ankle gets
all swollen and blue.
Ethnic group membership. The manipulation of
ethnic groups members was identical to Study 1 and
the manipulation check was no longer included.
Again, to heighten salience of the group context,
before reading the stories, children answered to
which group they belonged (Dutch, Turkish, other).
Emotion ratings. After each story children rated the
same positive or negative emotions as in Study 1
and within each type of event, emotion ratings were
again signicantly correlated (ranging from r= .21 to
r= .66). Therefore, a mean score was computed for
the positive, moderately negative and very negative
events.
Analyses
The analyses were identical to Study 1, but now also
included a contrast for the very negative event.
Thus, linear mixed models were run in which the
dependent variable was childrens emotion ratings
and the independent variables were the three con-
trasts for the ethnic group context and childrens inter-
group evaluations.
Results
Children expected peers to feel happy when a positive
event occurred (M= 4.08, SD = 0.55), above the neutral
midpoint of the scale, t(200) = 27.81, p< .001. The
negative event did not dier signicantly from the
neutral midpoint of the scale (M= 3.01, SD = 0.55), t
(200) = 0.13, p= .90. For the very negative event, chil-
dren expected peers to feel bad (M= 4.15, SD = 0.53),
above the neutral midpoint of the scale, t(200) =
30.55, p< .001. As intended, children expected peers
to feel worse in case of very negative events com-
pared to the moderately negative events, t(200) =
28.56, p< .001. Moreover, children evaluated the
Dutch in-group more positively compared to the
Turkish out-group (respectively, M= 6.47 (SD = 0.75)
and M= 5.41 (SD = 1.34), t(200) = 11.85, p<.001).
There were no main or interaction eects for chil-
drens gender and age. Moreover, there were no
dierences between stories within each event. There-
fore, these variables were not included in the model.
Emotion ratings
A main eect was found for the contrast representing
the group context in a positive situation (p= .04, see
Table 2). Replicating the ndings of Study 1, children
expected in-group peers to feel better compared to
out-group peers when something positive happened
to them (in-group: M= 4.16, SD = 0.56; out-group: M
= 4.00, SD = 0.53). For moderately negative emotions,
again a main eect emerged for the group context
Table 2. Multilevel results for Study 2.
βSE
Contrast positive emotions .11* 0.05
Contrast negative emotions .12* 0.05
Contrast very negative emotions .07 0.05
Dierence score in-group out-group evaluation .03 0.04
Contrast positive emotions * dierence score .04 0.05
Contrast negative emotions * dierence score .09
+
0.05
Contrast very negative emotions * dierence score .06 0.05
Note: *p< .05,
+
p= 0.07, two tailed.
8J. SIERKSMA AND G. BIJLSTRA
(p= .028): children expected out-group peers to feel
worse compared to in-group peers when a negative
event occurred (in-group: M= 2.92, SD = 0.59; out-
group: M= 3.09, SD = 0.51). The contrast for childrens
ratings of in-group and out-group emotions when
something very negative happened, did not result in
amaineect (p=.15). This suggests that children
expected in-group and out-group peers to feel
equally bad (in-group: M= 4.10, SD = 0.56; out-group:
M= 4.19, SD = 0.50) when something very negative
happened.
In-group and out-group evaluation. Next, we
explored whether intergroup evaluations aected
childrens ratings of emotions. Similar to Study 1, chil-
drens emotion perception of the positive event was
not inuenced by their in-group or out-group evalu-
ation, or a dierence score. For childrens emotion per-
ception of the moderately negative event, again no
eect was found for childrens out-group evaluation.
Moreover, and in contrast to Study 1, childrens in-
group evaluations also did not inuence their percep-
tion of emotions in in-group and out-group peers in
moderately negative situations. Only a marginally sig-
nicant interaction for a dierence score and the
group context emerged (p= 0.07) for childrens per-
ception of emotions during moderately negative
events. Simple slope analysis showed that when the
dierence between childrens in-group and out-
group evaluation was large (1 SD above the mean),
they expected out-group peers to feel worse com-
pared to in-group peers (β=.21, p= .005). Whereas,
when the dierence between childrens in-group
and out-group evaluation was small (1 SD below the
mean), they expected in-group and out-group peers
to feel equally bad (β=.02, p= .75). Moreover, the
dierence score was somewhat related to their expec-
tation that out-group peers would feel negative
emotions (β=.09, p= .08), but not to their prediction
about in-group emotions (β=.04, p= .42). Lastly,
childrens emotion perception of the very negative
event was not inuenced by their in-group evaluation,
out-group evaluation or the dierence score.
Data studies 1 and 2 combined
To better understand whether childrens intergroup
evaluations inuence emotion ratings and in what
form (i.e. dierence score or solely in-group evalu-
ation) we combined the data for Study 1 and 2 for chil-
drens ratings of emotions in positive and moderately
negative situations. Across the two studies, children
(N= 503) expected in-group peers to feel more posi-
tive emotions in positive situations than out-group
peers (β= .10, p= .023) and expected out-group
peers to feel more negative emotions compared to
in-group peers in moderately negative situations (β
=.13, p= .003). For intergroup evaluations only one
marginal signicant eect emerged: childrens in-
group evaluation was related to their ratings of inter-
group emotions in moderately negative situations (β
=.09, p= .05). Simple slope analysis suggested that
when children were very positive about their in-
group (1 SD above the mean) they expected out-
group peers to feel more negative emotions than in-
group peers (β=.22, p< .001), whereas when chil-
dren were less positive about the in-group (1 SD
below the mean) they expected in-group and out-
group peers to feel similarly negative (β=.04, p
= .48). Moreover, in moderately negative situations,
in-group evaluation was positively related to chil-
drens perception of out-group emotions (β= .15, p
< .001) but not related to their perception of in-
group emotions (β= .01, p= .89).
Summary
Study 2 shows that children expect in-group peers to
feel more positive emotions in positive situations but
feel fewer negative emotions than out-group peers in
moderately negative situations. Ethnic group member-
ship of the protagonist no longer plays a role when
something very negative happens. For the inuence
of intergroup evaluations, we combined the data for
Studies 1 and 2 and see that children who are very posi-
tive about the in-group, expect out-group peers in
moderately negative situations to feel more negative
emotions than in-group peers, whereas children who
are less positive about the in-group do not dieren-
tiate. Childrens perceptions of positive and very nega-
tive emotions were not inuenced by their in-group
evaluations, and out-group evaluation or a dierence
score did not have a signicant impact either.
General discussion
Children grow up in increasingly multicultural
societies, and emotion perception can have a crucial
impact on whether children want to interact with or
avoid peers (e.g. Lagattuta et al., 2014; Paulus &
Moore, 2015) and positive intergroup contact fosters
social solidarity and prevents prejudice and
COGNITION AND EMOTION 9
discrimination (Raabe & Beelmann, 2011). While a
large literature is devoted to emotion understanding
in children, there is a paucity of empirical studies
that take into account how childrens perception of
emotions depends on who is experiencing these
emotions. The present research breaks new ground
by showing that the ethnic intergroup context is an
important factor in majority group childrens percep-
tion of emotions.
For moderately negative situations, the results show
that children are consistently biased in their perception
of emotions experienced by ethnic in-group and disad-
vantaged out-group peers. For both studies, we show
that children expected in-group peers to feel fewer
negative emotions compared to out-group peers.
Moreover, when the data for Studies 1 and 2 are com-
bined, results show that children who were more posi-
tive about the in-group were particularly likely to
indicate that out-group peers would feel more nega-
tive emotions than in-group peers in moderately nega-
tive situations. Although this nding was only
marginally signicant and should thus be interpreted
with caution. Thus, rather than perceiving more nega-
tive emotions in a much-liked in-group, childrens in-
group favouritism might have guided them to attribute
more negative emotions to out-group peers. These
ndings are in line with a social identity perspective
(Tajfel & Turner, 1979) and suggest that children, in
identical moderately negative situations, attribute
more negative emotions to ethnic out-group com-
pared to in-group peers.
The results of Study 2 also provide insight into a
boundary condition for the inuence of social identity
concerns in majority group childrens perception of
intergroup emotions in negative situations. Namely,
when a situation occurs that is unambiguously very
negative, children expect ethnic in-group and out-
group peers to feel equally bad. This suggests that
for very negative situations, social identity concerns
no longer aect majority group childrens perception
of intergroup emotions. Why might this be? At least
two accounts can explain the absence of bias in chil-
drens perception of emotions for very negative situ-
ations. It could be that for group-based biases to
emerge in the perception of emotions, these
emotion expressions do need to allow for some indi-
vidual variability in everyday life. Given that children
this age probably know very negative situations
almost always elicit very negative emotions in
people, it is likely that they genuinely think that such
emotions do not depend on who is experiencing
these emotions. This explanation resonates with
ndings in the helping domain that show that when
the need for help is high, children think others need
equal levels of help independent of who they are
(i.e. friend, family, stranger) (Miller, Berso,&
Harwood, 1990). Another explanation is that unam-
biguous situations do not allow for the rationalisation
or denial of prejudice and therefore children hide their
group-based biases. This is in line with research that
shows that children this age often do not show bias
on explicit measures but do in ambiguous situations
or when implicit measures are used (e.g. Dunham,
Baron, & Banaji, 2006; McGlothlin & Killen, 2006; but
see Williams & Steele, in press).
The results for childrens perception of intergroup
emotions in positive situations are also in line with a
social identity perspective. Across the two studies
and multiple positive situations, children expected
ethnic in-group peers to feel better than ethnic out-
group peers. This suggests that similar to childrens
perception of emotions in moderately negative situ-
ations, children were motivated to attribute more
favourable emotions to in-group compared to out-
group peers in positive situations. However, in both
studies, childrens intergroup evaluations did not
inuence their perception of positive intergroup
emotions. Potentially, this might be due to a methodo-
logical reason. The majority of children in each study
expected peers to feel happy when something posi-
tive occurred and expressed strong in-group favourit-
ism. As such there might have been a ceiling eect for
these measures combined. To increase variability in
childrens in-group evaluation, future studies should
consider testing the inuence of other group contexts
that lead to more variation in how much children like
their in-group (e.g. European group membership,
school classes) or focus on a more diverse sample.
Another suggestion would be to include more ambig-
uous positive situations. This is also important,
because although in the positive events children
expected peers to be very happy and this thus poss-
ibly was an unambiguous situation, group-based
biases still emerged. This suggests that the boundary
condition for social identity concerns to motivate
majority group childrens perception of positive
emotions may dier from childrens perception of
negative emotions in others. Alternatively, it is impor-
tant to include very positive events as well, because if
our reasoning for very negative emotions holds, this
would mean that ethnic bias should not emerge for
very positive emotions either.
10 J. SIERKSMA AND G. BIJLSTRA
However, the dierential inuence of childrens in-
group favouritism for perceiving positive and moder-
ately negative emotions could also indicate that dis-
tinct motivations underlie majority group childrens
perceptions of emotions in positive and moderately
negative situations. The presence of negative
emotions might be perceived as more threatening
to a positive social identity compared to (the
absence of) positive emotions. This is in line with
research showing that the experience of negative situ-
ations and emotions compared to positive ones, has
longer lasting and more profound eects on people,
that people tend to perceive negative emotions as
more important than positive ones, and that people
have a tendency to avoid or escape negative emotions
(for an overview see Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finke-
nauer, & Vohs, 2001). This so-called negativity bias is
already found in infants (Vaish, Grossmann, & Wood-
ward, 2008). As such, negative emotions might acti-
vate social identity concerns more readily and as a
consequence children are motivated to protect the
in-group, especially when in-group favouritism is
strong (e.g. Nesdale et al., 2005). Whereas, situations
that elicit positive emotions might not trigger a
threat to social identity and therefore other motiv-
ations emerge. One such likely mechanism is then
that children assign more intense emotions to in-
group members because they empathise more with
them compared to out-group members during posi-
tive events. Future work should include measures or
manipulations of experienced threat to social identity
and experienced empathy to better distinguish
between both mechanisms in childrens perception
of intergroup emotions.
Relatedly, the ndings for moderately negative
emotions are not in line with the general assumption
that we often ascribe more intense emotions or
empathise more (easily) with similar compared to dis-
similar others (e.g. Batson, 2011; Meltzo,2007;
Preston & de Waal, 2002) as well as empirical
support for this in children and adults (e.g. Avenanti
et al., 2010; Dore et al., 2014;2018; Gutsell & Inzlicht,
2012; Neumann et al., 2013). One reason for this
might be that we used stories instead of presenting
children with more vivid situations (i.e. video-clips, pic-
tures) and therefore co-feeling was not elicited. The
absence of perceiving more intense emotions for the
in-group could also be due to the type of emotions
studied in the current research. Perhaps perceiving
more intense emotions in in-group members is more
easily triggered for highly arousing emotions (e.g.
pain, anger) compared to emotions that can be less
arousing (e.g. to be a little sad; see Baumeister et al.,
2001). One implication of this is that future studies
have to more carefully delineate dierent types of
emotions as well as the way these are measured.
This would also oer a chance to better understand
when and how social identity concerns emerge in chil-
drens intergroup emotion perception. Because it is
likely that these emerge especially when the
emotion or situation is central to the particular identity
that is salient (e.g. ethnic identity probably activates
other emotions that group contexts based on sports;
see Smith & Mackie, 2016).
Another important avenue for further research is to
assess how minority children, such as the Turkish per-
ceive positive and negative intergroup emotions. Pre-
vious research shows that children who belong to
disadvantaged groups often express less strong or
no in-group bias (see Raabe & Beelmann, 2011). This
means that minority group children might perceive
emotions very dierently in an intergroup context.
However, there is evidence that White as well as
Black adults perceive less pain in Black adults and
that this thus is related to status rather than racial
bias (Trawalter, Homan, & Waytz, 2012). A similar sen-
sitivity for status has also been shown to underlie
intergroup preferences in children (e.g. see Shutts,
2015). To further understand whether the current
ndings are related to out-group status in general or
the particular out-group studied, it is thus crucial to
extend this work to minority status children and
other group contexts (e.g. minimal groups, gender,
other ethnic contexts). Relatedly, in the current work,
we ask children to identify their in-group before think-
ing about intergroup emotions. This was done to
create a somewhat more ecologically valid examin-
ation of the inuence of the group context. After all,
in real life children often receive more rich information
on peoples group membership (e.g. presence of
visual information, people using group labels,
languages people speak) making the group context
more salient compared to the simple stories we pre-
sented children with. However, it is also important to
assess to what extent children take into account the
group context without making it salient. In addition,
future studies should counterbalance the order of
the stories, to avoid order eects.
In addition, research should focus on examining
the link between childrens emotion perception and
their action tendencies in intergroup contexts. How
does the dierence in emotion perception aect
COGNITION AND EMOTION 11
behaviour? For example, if children perceive out-
group peers to suer more in moderately negative
situations, they might be more inclined to help
them. This would be in line with previous research
that shows children sometimes are more prosocial to
disadvantaged peers (e.g. Elenbaas, Rizzo, Cooley, &
Killen, 2016; Li, Spitzer, & Olson, 2014) and discrimi-
nate by helping out-group peers more than in-group
peers (Sierksma, Lansu, Karremans, & Bijlstra, 2018).
Additionally, including aspects of emotions into the
developmental study of intergroup behaviour is also
important because children themselves might experi-
ence emotions on behalf of the in-group, as is often
shown in adults (see Mackie & Smith, 2015). There is
some evidence that events aecting the in-group
can inuence children on an emotional level,
because children feel ashamed themselves when in-
group members are bullied (Jones et al., 2009) and
extending this line of work will certainly provide us
with a more in-depth understanding of childrens
intergroup behaviour.
An important aim of the study of intergroup biases
in childhood is that, in the long run, we will be able to
prevent discrimination and prejudice and stimulate
positive interethnic peer relations. Our results show
that childrens emotion perception is already biased
at an early age. Making children aware of this bias in
emotion perception and teaching them how to
combat it, should be an important aspect of interven-
tions to stimulate positive intergroup behaviour from
a young age onwards. Moreover, while the eective-
ness of intervention programmes to reduce discrimi-
nation and prejudice are often evaluated in terms of
cognitive aspects (e.g. see Aboud et al., 2012) the
current research provides a reason to also evaluate
eects on childrens biases in intergroup emotions.
This should provide research scholars, educators, and
parents with in-depth knowledge on how to over-
come prejudice early in life.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
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14 J. SIERKSMA AND G. BIJLSTRA
... To measure explicit associations, children may read stories about a White or Black character engaging in an ambiguous action (e.g., bumping into another person) (Sagar & Schofield, 1980). On average, White American children as young as 6 years tend to rate Black characters as more "mean", "bad", "sad", and "threatening" than White characters (Lawrence, 1991;McGlothlin & Killen, 2010;Rutland et al., 2005;Sierksma & Bijlstra, 2019;Williams & Davidson, 2009). To measure implicit associations, children are typically given a child-friendly version of the implicit association task (IAT) (Greenwald et al., 1998). ...
Preprint
For decades, affective scientists have examined how adults and children reason about others’ emotions. Yet, our knowledge is limited regarding how emotion reasoning is impacted by race—that is, how individuals reason about emotions displayed by people of other racial groups. In this review, we examine the developmental origins of racial biases in emotion reasoning, focusing on how White Americans reason about emotions displayed by Black faces/people. We highlight how racial biases in emotion reasoning, which emerge as early as infancy, likely contribute to miscommunications, inaccurate social perceptions, and negative interracial interactions across the lifespan. We conclude by discussing promising interventions to reduce these biases as well as future research directions, highlighting how affective scientists can decenter Whiteness in their research designs. Together, this review highlights how emotion reasoning is a potentially affective component of racial bias among White Americans.
... To measure explicit associations, children may read stories about a White or Black character engaging in an ambiguous action (e.g., bumping into another person) (Sagar & Schofield, 1980). On average, White American children as young as 6 years tend to rate Black characters as more "mean", "bad", "sad", and "threatening" than White characters (Lawrence, 1991;McGlothlin & Killen, 2010;Rutland et al., 2005;Sierksma & Bijlstra, 2019;Williams & Davidson, 2009). To measure implicit associations, children are typically given a child-friendly version of the implicit association task (IAT) (Greenwald et al., 1998). ...
Article
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For decades, affective scientists have examined how adults and children reason about others’ emotions. Yet, our knowledge is limited regarding how emotion reasoning is impacted by race—that is, how individuals reason about emotions displayed by people of other racial groups. In this review, we examine the developmental origins of racial biases in emotion reasoning, focusing on how White Americans reason about emotions displayed by Black faces/people. We highlight how racial biases in emotion reasoning, which emerge as early as infancy, likely contribute to miscommunications, inaccurate social perceptions, and negative interracial interactions across the lifespan. We conclude by discussing promising interventions to reduce these biases as well as future research directions, highlighting how affective scientists can decenter Whiteness in their research designs.Together, this review highlights how emotion reasoning is a potentially affective component of racial bias among White Americans.
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Chapter
The main objective of our chapter is to present a group-level theory of helping and altruism within and across group boundaries and to review the empirical evidence in support of its key assumptions. We derive the basic tenets of this theory from the integration of two social psychological research traditions: research and theory on group processes and intergroup relations and research into helping behaviour and altruism. A key proposition of the theoretical account presented in our chapter is that salient ingroup/outgroup distinctions play a crucial role in moderating the motivational processes underlying helping owing to their effects on self–other similarities. In a first part, we elaborate on the specific predictions concerning motivational differences in ingroup and outgroup helping. It also outlines the subtle ingroup/outgroup biases in helping that might result from these motivational differences. Moreover, we propose different factors (in the sense of interventions) that can reduce ingroup/outgroup biases in helping. In a second part of the chapter, we present empirical data from a research programme designed to test these propositions. Here, we refer to a coordinated series of studies employing a variety of research methodologies (field research, laboratory experiments) and focusing on different intergroup contexts (natural groups, artificial groups), different samples of research participants (community volunteers and students, Westerners and Muslims, helpers and recipients of help), and different forms of helping situations (volunteering versus spontaneous helping). In a final part, we (re-)address the issue of outgroup discrimination in helping, taking a closer look at the subtleties of this phenomenon and its consequences for potential recipients of help.
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