Children nurse a lot of prejudices and often come down heavily on disloyalty, says a new study that has implications for the understanding of peer victimisation among the young.
Researchers at Kent University, who studied what they called the "black sheep effect", found that children treat disloyalty in their own group more harshly than disloyalty within different groups.
Dominic Abrams of Kent University, who led the research team, says the findings have "implications for peer victimisation and bullying as well as for the understanding and management of prejudice and discrimination in schools".
Past research into prejudice suggested that children progress from regarding groups in simple terms of difference -- such as white, black or brown -- to regarding people as individuals.
But this does not easily explain prejudice across different ages for different types of groups -- or why adults continue to show prejudice.
The new study was sparked by evidence that adults show strong bias in favour of or against groups while also being staunch critics of individual members within those same groups.
Rather than becoming less prejudiced with age, young people grow to support their own group in a more sophisticated way. They focus not just on whether peers belong to their own group, but on how well they conform to social values, such as loyalty to the group.
The study showed that pre-teens favoured loyal peers, especially if they belonged to the same group as themselves.
At the same time, disloyalty within other groups was seen to be more valued and not criticized in the same way as in their own group.
This "black-sheep effect" was found within national groups (French and English) and within gender groups, where it was clearer for boys than girls.