In the current study 144 kindergarten, 2nd grade, 6th grade Israeli students were examined to find the extent of inductive potential based off of viewing cartoon images with varying social characteristics labeled below. The three sectors of children studied were religious Jews, secular Jews, and Muslim Arabs. The findings showed that the labeling of ethnic categorization, in comparison to other social categorization, had the most inductive potential for all three of the sectors, particularly amongst religious Jews.
Additionally, ethnic categorization became more salient with the increase of age between the three school grade brackets. Next the researchers looked into the inductive potential when there was not a social category was labeled, the findings showed no difference across the three sectors. These results display the development of psychological essentialism in children and the role cultural conditioning plays in this process.
In Israel there is a deeply imbedded prejudice between ethnic populations, often resulting in violence. The development of essentialism documented in the current study reveals that holding this belief is due to social influence and is not an innate characteristic that children are born with. Psychological essentialism is the idea that there are intrinsic, unalterable qualities within individuals of different of people. I believe those that hold this idea could be more capable of committing acts of violence.
When people see others as being intrinsically different from themselves this lends them to dehumanize the other. It is as if they view others as something like a inferior species, if the viewer also perceives qualities they dislike in the other, this makes it easier to engage in acts of violence against them. What has been shown in this study is relevant on a global scale, from gang violence to genocides. To extend this study I would like to discuss a possible way that a teacher in the region might remedy what I believe to be a dangerous situation and decrease the propensity for essentialism between the three sectors of children.
A tested strategy that has proven to decrease prejudice in hundreds of schools in America and around the world is the Jigsaw classroom. The Social Psychologist Eliot Aronson has devised a system that decreases prejudice amongst all students and increases test scores in minorities. In his original study in an Austin, Texas school system in 1971, following the desegregation he implemented the standard of mix- raced learning groups. In these groups, students were reliant on each other for information necessary to succeed on an exam. The foundational principles of these groups are that all members have equal status amongst each other, they work on a task where all have to come together in order to succeed,there is personal communication between all members, and the teacher and classroom environment supports this endeavor (Aronson, 2002).
If classroom Jigsawing became the standard in Israeli elementary schools I would expect there to be a decrease in essentialist outlooks amongst the children. I postulate with the decline of essentialist thought there would be less dehumanization between the populations, which would result in a correlated decline in violence. I believe categorizing others based off of their salient features, be it ethnicity, class, or gender related, decreases the viewers capacity to see the other as equal. The necessity of interaction in order for individual success within Jigsawed classrooms causes children to engage to a fuller extent than would otherwise be possible when forming interactions based from stereotypes.
In conclusion, the phenomenon of essentialism within children that increases with age and labeling is due to cultural conditioning. In a cultural that has a large propensity to label different ethnic groups there will be a rise of violence amongst these groups. The violence is more justified within the person committing the act because the essentialist outlook leads to the dehumanization of the other. A system that has proven to be effective to combat prejudice within school systems is the Jigsaw classroom. If this were to be instated in Israel there would be a decline in essentialist outlooks, prejudice, and violence.
Aronson, Elliot. (2002). In Improving academic achievement: Impact of
pscal factors on education. San Diego, CA, US: Academic Press.
Birnbaum, D. et al. (2010). The Development of Social Essentialism: The Case of
Israeli Children’s Inferences About Jews and Arabs. Child Development, 81 (3), 757-777.