A cocktail of Sunday afternoon war films where the British always win, comics with similar storylines, parental attitudes, and tabloid images of Germany, perpetuates German people as the enemy half a century after the Second World War.
Children who have never been to Germany or met anyone from the country, have still developed a prejudice by the time they are 12, according to new research by psychologists.
Dr Adam Rutland talked to more than 300 children aged six to 16. He showed them photographs of 10 faces of men and women and asked them to score the pictures based on whether they liked or disliked the people.
The children were shown the pictures again after they had been labelled as British, Russian American, German or Australian.
While the labels made little difference to most of the original judgements, the German man and woman who had previously been liked, were suddenly disliked. The changes of heart were not due to any physical differences and all 12 people were in fact British.
"National prejudice started to emerge in the 12-year-olds and reached its highest level in those aged 16. At 12, children begin to show a bias towards their own country and talked about things like, 'our army is the biggest and best' and that kind of thing," says Dr Rutland, of Aberdeen University, whose research was reported at the British Psycho- logical Society conference in Loughborough, yesterday.
"When they talked about Britishness they brought up images of winning the war and the tradition of monarchy and that kind of thing. It is possible the Germans are picked out because of images the children pick up from the media, television, parents and so on."
He says that the finding are important because they show the development of a national prejudice: "Unlike ethnic prejudice, which seems to peak at around eight, national prejudice develops gradually during the teens and appears to stick. It also seems that, while we now regard ethnic prejudice as taboo, national prejudice seems to be more acceptable."
The high number of old war films on British TV has been a source of interest for German academics for some time. Dr Rainer Emig, a German academic working at Cardiff University who organised a conference on German stereotypes, says these images are wrong.
"What is worrying to me is why so many people here watch war and post- war propaganda films on TV which portray all Germans as Nazis. I think that represents an unwillingness to accept that things have changed," says Dr Emig.Reuse content