A developmental perspective on the linguistic intergroup bias (Mirja Storck, M.Sc.)
The linguistic intergroup bias (Maass, Salvi, Arcuri & Semin, 1989) describes systematic differences in language use in social group contexts that are related to underlying intergroup attitudes: Individuals tend to describe desirable behaviors of ingroup members in abstract linguisitic terms and undesirable behaviors of ingroup members in more concrete terms. For reports on behavior of outgroup members this pattern reverses. This systematic difference of concrete and abstract language use has consequences for the perception and representation of ingroup and outgroup: If abstractly represented, positive ingroup behavior and negative outgroup behavior are perceived as more informative about the nature of the actor and their social group, indicating temporal stable and less verifiable qualities. On the other hand, concretely described negative ingroup behavior and positive outgroup behavior are seen as less representative. Such subtle linguistic differences facilitate the transmission of stereotypes and perpetuate stereotype-congruent inferences. It has been assumed that such subtly biased language is an important factor in the transmission and socialization of stereotypical thinking to children. However, empirical support for this assumption is rather scarce and we lack a clear developmental perspective on the emergence and consequences of linguistic intergroup biases.
We present a series of studies in which we investigated whether and to what extent pre-school and primary children are susceptible to these linguistic biases. Therefore, we presented children with storybooks in which agents belonging to two social groups demonstrated desired and undesired behaviors while we manipulated the degree of abstractness of the behavioral descriptions. Our results demonstrate under what circumstances linguistic variation influences group evaluation, interaction preferences, attributions and interpretations of ambiguous behavior in children. We discuss implications for the formation and development of intergroup stereotypes during early and middle childhood.