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Cross-racial friendships easier for kids with good academic and social skills, study finds

One researcher says children who are academically and socially adept might have the skills to understand someone who is different from them.
cross-racial friendship
Cross-racial friendships, also known as interracial friendships, are platonic relationships between people of different racial identities.

A B.C. psychology professor and a PhD student wanted to understand the relationship between cross-racial friendships, and the academic and social success of students.

Cross-racial friendships are platonic relationships between people of different racial identities — also known as interracial friendships.

Dr. Amori Mikami and PhD student Hongyuan (Vivian) Qi set out to investigate their curiosities. They studied the level of engagement of students, grades, teamwork, and motivation to learn in the classroom.

Mikami and Qi also asked students to nominate peers they considered as friends. They cross-referenced the data with parents’ statements of their children’s race, which revealed same-race friends and cross-racial friends.

Their research shows that children who excelled academically and socially at the beginning of the school year were “more likely to have a higher number of cross-racial friendships at the end of the year.”

That being said, the pair learned that children with “a strong network of cross-racial friendships” didn’t correlate to doing well academically or socially.

“Children who are socially well-adjusted might have a greater ability to understand somebody who comes from a different perspective,” says Mikami in a news release. “If they’re academically well-adjusted, they might have the cognitive skills to think in more complex ways and understand where a peer who is different from them is coming from.”

Qi also posits that the social risk of having cross-racial friendships is lower.

“It’s also possible that children who are socially well-adjusted have more popularity and social status in their classroom, so making friends with somebody of another race is viewed as less risky or more desirable.”

So why does this study matter?

“If we start to investigate what we can do to facilitate positive interaction between races when children are young, then they’ll be more likely to develop cross-racial friendships when they grow up,” says Qi.

For Mikami, the contradictions that occur with race relations is one reason to continue this work.

“You see these wonderful, heartwarming, uplifting stories of Canadians helping across racial lines (e.g., Ukraine), but you also see heartbreaking stories about racial violence, police brutality and Vancouver as the anti-Asian hate crime capital of Canada,” she says.