One of the things we love about children is their pureness and ability to view the world through a fresh set of eyes. They hold no preconceptions on things—or so we thought.
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto is turning this long-held theory on its head, claiming children as young as two and half years old have learned to judge overweight peers.
The study was comprised of 42 boys and girls, aged two in a half to five years old. They were told stories that featured two boys and two girls. One of the characters in each story did something nice, while the other did something mean.
All the children were then showed illustrations of the characters, and then asked which ones they thought committed the nice act, and which one the mean act.
Nearly 44 percent of the children felt the overweight illustration committed the mean act in both books. When asked to describe the overweight illustration versus the normal-sized illustration, the children used descriptions like “mean” and “mad” to describe the overweight character.
A pretty eye-opening scenario, especially when you take into account only 2 percent of the children felt the overweight illustrations committed the nice act.
According to the researchers involved with the study, “The findings can inform the development of programs to prevent or decrease body stigmatization in order to create inclusive learning and social environments where all children are accepted, included, and gain a sense of belonging regardless of their body shape or size.”
That can be translated to parents and educators teaching their children that regardless of appearance, anyone can commit good or bad deeds and they shouldn’t automatically assume someone who is overweight is “bad.”
For more on the studies of early childhood research, check out the Journal of Early Childhood Research.