Getting ‘Em Early

22 Apr


(A practitioner of the dark arts)

Here’s a study that supports my recent bend on the link between cognitive science and religiosity, Exploiting children’s social instincts to boost their learning:

Young children’s instinct for group membership can be exploited to boost their learning performance. That’s according to a new study that recalls classic social psychology research conducted in the 1970s. Back then Henri Tajfel showed a darker side to this group mentality. In his “minimal group” studies, schoolboys were divided into two groups based merely on their preference for one of two artists. The arbitrary groups thus formed, the boys showed immediate bias against peers not in their group.


In one condition, the children were told that they were members of “the Blue Group” that did puzzles. Although they were alone, the children donned a blue t-shirt, sat on a blue chair, and the puzzle box had a blue sticker on it. They were further told that children in the “the Green group” do other things.


Even though they worked alone and there was no history to their group membership, the children in the Blue Group condition were fired up by their belonging to the group that does puzzles – they persisted 29 per cent longer on the puzzle than children in the “child number 3” condition and 35 per cent longer than children not allocated to a group or individual identity.

Religious organizations know that to get a person adhering to a religion for life you have to get ’em when they’re young. The above research suggets why this is so: because our brains are wired for groupthink. Tell a child they are a Catholic, or Hindu, or Jewish, and they’ll hold that identity longer that they rationally should.

Richard Dawkins famously argued that telling children what religion they are before they have the emotional and intellectual maturity to understand such a choice is child abuse. I’m not sure I agree with that, but certainly telling a child what religion they are against their will is taking advantage of the dark arts.

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Posted by on April 22, 2013 in cognitive science, religiosity


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