Maternal behavior during cross-race interactions and children’s racial attitudes : the nonverbal transmission of prejudice
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The current population of the United States is remarkably racially diverse relative to its past and to other nations. As a result, individuals have many opportunities to interact with others from differing racial backgrounds. However, close, intimate, friendships between individuals from differing racial groups remain uncommon, especially among European Americans. Given persistent racial tension within the U.S., it is important to understand how racial attitudes develop in children and how these attitudes influence interracial interactions. A common adage is that “hate is learned” and theorists have long argued that children adopt the racial attitudes of their family members (Allport, 1954). However, research provides inconsistent evidence for this claim. The primary goal of this dissertation is to examine the role of maternal race-related attitudes and behavior, especially mothers’ modeling of behavior during cross-race interactions, in shaping children’s racial attitudes. Specifically, we sought to test the hypothesis that Asian American, European American, and Latino mothers who exhibit more warm interactions with an African American confederate would be more likely to have children who have positive attitudes toward African American. Conversely, Asian American, European American, and Latino mothers who behave in an anxious or avoidant manner during an interaction with an African American confederate would be more likely to have children with negative attitudes toward African Americans. Additionally, we investigated the role of individual differences in predicting mothers’ nonverbal behavior in the cross-race interactions (i.e., levels of situational diversity, social network, racial attitudes, theories of prejudice, colorblindness). Mothers (N = 44; 29 to 48 years, M = 39.54) and their children (N = 44; 21 girls, 4 to 6 years ; M = 5.31 ) were placed in a room with an African American confederate. The interaction was unstructured (i.e., no task to be completed or predetermined topic to be discussed) and filmed in its entirety. Mothers and children were then separated post-interaction and completed several measures of racial attitudes. Results indicated mothers lived in moderately racially diverse environments. As expected, mothers' and children's attitudes toward African Americans were unrelated; mothers held slightly pro-African American attitudes, whereas children held slightly pro-European American attitudes. Mothers also discussed race with their children somewhat often as evidenced by their self-reported frequency of race-related messages and reported little apprehension about broaching the topic with their children. Contrary to expectations, none of the maternal measures assessed here (e.g., mothers’ racial socialization, racial beliefs, intergroup contact, nonverbal behavior) were significant predictors of their children’s racial attitudes.