Research reveals children begin to identify with religious and political symbols from age of five
CHILDREN begin to identify with religious and political symbols from as early as the age of five, according to new research.
In an international study of children from Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Macedonia, researchers from Queen’s University Belfast found the same pattern - as children get older, they begin to form a preference for certain symbols.
More than 700 children attending schools divided by ethnicity and religion took part in the study and were asked directly about their perspectives on peace.
The children drew pictures and explained their thoughts.
The research found that during their primary school years, children develop a stronger preference for symbols such as flags, signs, or sporting emblems.
It also revealed that children who had a preference for symbols from their own group, shared less with a pupil from a ‘conflict rival’ background.
The project included experts from University College Dublin, Rochester Institute of Technology, Kosovo and the American University College Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia.
Dr Laura K Taylor, who led the project, said "understanding when children begin to relate to symbols has implications for conflict and its resolution".
"Our research shows that children begin to identify with symbols as early as the age of five but that as they get older - towards the age of 11 - they express higher ingroup symbol preference," she said.
"Interestingly, this is the case internationally.
"Across Northern Ireland, Kosovo, and Macedonia, it is important to note that even though children preferred ingroups symbols, they were still sharing across group lines.
"This outgroup sharing can be a seed of peace."
Dr Taylor added that "despite peace agreements in all three settings, the research highlights that tensions remain and children are socialised in the history of intergroup conflict".
"It is vitally important that we understand how ingroup preferences develop in these early school years," she said.
"The research suggests that primary school may be a sensitive period and potentially a good time to work on prosocial behaviour - behaviour that intends to benefit others - one way of addressing this could be through empathy interventions or promoting inclusive, overarching identities."