Implicit attitudes toward children may be unrelated to child abuse risk

Heather J. Risser*, John J. Skowronski, Julie L. Crouch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


To explore whether adults possess implicit attitudes toward children and whether those attitudes are especially negative among respondents who are high in child physical abuse (CPA) risk. Methods: The present study used an implicit evaluative priming procedure. In this procedure, participants were instructed to make decisions about the evaluative implications of target words. These words were preceded by photographs of child faces or adult faces displaying positive, neutral, or negative expressions. Reaction times for the evaluative decisions were used as an index of the extent to which photos invoked negative or positive evaluative reactions. Results: Results from 2 studies, the first conducted on a student sample (N= 90) and the second on a parent sample (N= 95), demonstrated that evaluative congruence between the facial expressions displayed in photographs and the target words facilitated responses. Furthermore, the results suggested that regardless of CPA risk, child faces, relative to adult faces, facilitated responses to negative target words, suggesting an out-group bias. This implicit out-group bias was not moderated by respondents' CPA risk status. Conclusions: Faces of children, relative to faces of adults, appear to activate negative information structures that facilitate evaluative decisions of negative stimuli, suggesting an out-group bias. Given that out-group biases typically lead to less favorable treatment of out-group members, additional research is needed to examine the pervasiveness of negative evaluative biases towards children and the potential implications of such biases on children's lives. Further, research examining whether high CPA risk parents and low CPA risk parents differ in how they manage initial negative evaluative reactions is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)514-523
Number of pages10
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • Attitudes toward children
  • Child physical abuse
  • Evaluative reactions
  • Implicit attitudes
  • Social information processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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