CNN Headline News was playing on the TV while I was at the gym this morning, and an interesting segment came on about “Kids on Race,” which will be part of a larger segment run on the show Anderson Cooper 360 later tonight. The segment that I watched showed three separate trends: 1) white kids pointed towards lighter-skinned pictures whenever they were asked about positive attributes, 2) black kids pointed towards darker-skinned pictures whenever they were asked about positive attributes, and 3) some kids managed a racially neutral stance (ex: one girl in the 9-10 year old age category pointed to all of the pictures when she was asked about a positive attribute). However, I came to find out later today that this segment I watched was fairly mis-representative of the actual study results, which apparently showed a trend of the lighter-skinned pictures garnering the positive attributes and the darker-skinned attributes garnering the negative attributes.
I watched and found this fairly interesting. This so-called “study” (more on that in a minute) was designed to update the findings of a previous study done in the same vein that used physical white and black dolls. The findings in this study sort of jump-started an onslaught of research concerning children and racial bias. Later in the day, while at work, I got into an interesting conversation with several coworkers regarding this “study” and psychological research in general. As one person astutely pointed out, the findings that CNN reached are nothing new, and I surmised that while it’s being portrayed as a pilot study, it really is not. A pilot study is one that focuses on a research question that’s never been looked at before, or a study that introduces a new variable or element that has not been considered before. The CNN study simply doesn’t fit the bill, and I am not entirely sure why they are attempting to pass it off as such. Some have tried to defend the study by stating that it IS a pilot study and offers a new look into what race relations look like today. On the other hand, I have seen assertions running around on the Internet that CNN purposely put this on the top of its agenda in order to stir racial tensions and to re-ignite a debate that has been raging for decades after the initial doll bias study was published.
I’m not sure who is correct, but what I am clear about is this:
– This is not a pilot study. Drawing from my own research background and personal experience conducting primary research, I can think of three criteria for a study to qualify as a “pilot” study (and thus, for cable TV, something that’s “newsworthy”): 1) a study that attempts to answer a research question that has not been asked before, 2) a study that builds on existing literature and research in order to introduce a new variable or angle that has not been examined before, or 3) a preliminary study conducted with the intent of pursuing a major research project afterwards using the preliminary results to shape the scope of the research. The CNN study does not fit any of these descriptions.
– This is an issue that has been researched over and OVER again. You can find information about past research efforts in the area here and here (not to mention the initial study that I linked to earlier). So to a certain extent, I do have to wonder, along with those who argue that this was a deliberate attempt to stir up racial tensions, why a major news network decided to unleash a “study” and expose on this now?
– Given the fact that this is NOT a pilot study, which would justify a smaller than average sample size necessary for statistical significance, a total sample of 133 subjects (which was divided into four categories: elementary school white children, elementary school black children, middle school white children, and middle school black children) is *incredibly* low when you’re attempting to claim statistical significance for the United States population. Oh, and it gets better, this small sample was pulled from both affluent and poor school districts in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Georgia…the first three effectively being the tri-state area. Anyone who has lived in the tri-state area and outside of it will tell you that there are some significant differences between New York or New Jersey and say, Montana, when it comes to attitudes on race. Then there’s the outlier of Georgia, which was a good attempt, but doesn’t solve some of the geographic variables that this sample may have suffered from in terms of the study’s results. Point is, these results cannot be conclusively generalized to the population of the United States.
At best, this so-called “study” replicates information that the research community has known for decades. Lighter-skinned people are assumed to have more positive attributes than darker-skinned people, and these value assignments start very early. At worst, it reeks of incompetence and possible bias (after all, the researcher who designed the study was hired as a consultant for CNN) given just how poorly this study was designed, AND the fact that it’s being trumpeted as a “pilot study” when it clearly is not.
What say you?