Children’s social wariness toward a different-race stranger relates to individual differences in temperament
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Description: When children first meet a stranger, there is great variation in how much they will approach and engage with the stranger. While individual differences in this type of behavior – called social wariness – are well-documented in temperament research, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the social groups (such as race) of the stranger and how these characteristics might influence children’s social wariness. In contrast, research on children’s social bias and interracial friendships rarely examine individual differences in temperament and how temperament might influence cross-group interactions. The current study bridges the gap across these different fields of research by examining whether the racial group of an unfamiliar peer or adult moderates the association between temperament and the social wariness that children display. Utilizing a longitudinal dataset that collected multiple measurements of children’s temperament and behaviors (including parent-reported shyness and social wariness towards unfamiliar adults and peers) across early childhood, we found that 2- to 7-year-old children with high parent-reported shyness showed greater social wariness toward a different-race stranger compared to a same-race stranger, whereas children with low parent-reported shyness did not. These results point to the importance of considering racial group membership in temperament research and the potential role that temperament might play in children’s cross-race interactions.