Kristin Shutts, PhD

Slide of the Week: Kristin Shutts, PhD

Title: Young children’s automatic encoding of social categories

Legend: Mean encoding scores at each age in each condition. One-sample t-tests comparing performance to chance (0) appear above each bar in the graph. Error bars depict standard error.  Children encoded gender as early as four years of age, but no age group showed significant encoding of race.

Citation: Weisman, K., Johnson, M.V., & Shutts, K. (2015). Young children’s automatic encoding of social categories. Developmental Science, 18, 1036-1043.

Abstract: The present research investigated young children’s automatic encoding of two social categories that are highly relevant to adults: gender and race. Three- to 6-year-old participants learned facts about unfamiliar target children who varied in either gender or race and were asked to remember which facts went with which targets. When participants made mistakes, they were more likely to confuse targets of the same gender than targets of different genders, but they were equally likely to confuse targets within and across racial groups. However, a social preference measure indicated that participants were sensitive to both gender and race information. Participants with more racial diversity in their social environments were more likely to encode race, but did not have stronger racial preferences. These findings provide evidence that young children do not automatically encode all perceptible features of others. Further, gender may be a more fundamental social category than race.

About the Shutts Lab: The Shutts’ lab interests lie in the origins of object cognition and social cognition. It has a long-standing interest in how infants and children perceive and categorize objects, as well as a more recent, and now primary, interest in how infants and children apprehend their social world.

They are particularly interested in the development of social categories and preferences in infancy and early childhood. When do children come to see themselves and others as belonging to different social categories (e.g., gender, ethnicity, social class), which distinctions matter most to children, and how does this change over development and a result of immersion in a particular culture? What mechanisms support the development of social categories and preferences, and what are the cognitive and affective consequences of children’s earliest social category formation?

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