Children's implicit attitude acquisition: Evaluative statements succeed, repeated pairings fail

Tessa E.S. Charlesworth*, Benedek Kurdi, Mahzarin R. Banaji

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


From the earliest ages tested, children and adults show similar overall magnitudes of implicit attitudes toward various social groups. However, such consistency in attitude magnitude may obscure meaningful age-related change in the ways that children (vs. adults) acquire implicit attitudes. This experiment investigated children's implicit attitude acquisition by comparing the separate and joint effects of two learning interventions, previously shown to form implicit attitudes in adults. Children (N = 280, ages 7–11 years) were taught about novel social groups through either evaluative statements (ES; auditorily presented verbal statements such as ‘Longfaces are bad, Squarefaces are good’), repeated evaluative pairings (REP; visual pairings of Longface/Squareface group members with valenced images such as a puppy or snake), or a combination of ES+REP. Results showed that children acquired implicit attitudes following ES and ES+REP, with REP providing no additional learning beyond ES alone. Moreover, children did not acquire implicit attitudes in four variations of REP, each designed to facilitate learning by systematically increasing verbal scaffolding to specify (a) the learning goal, (b) the valence of the unconditioned stimuli, and (c) the group categories of the conditioned stimuli. These findings underscore the early-emerging role of verbal statements in children's implicit attitude acquisition, as well as a possible age-related limit in children's acquisition of novel implicit attitudes from repeated pairings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12911
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • associative learning
  • attitude acquisition
  • evaluative conditioning
  • implicit attitudes
  • propositional learning
  • social cognitive development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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