Infants show racial bias toward members of own race and against those of other racesSo there’s hope for humanity after all: we just have to keep human beings perpetually at a mental age of five months.
April 11, 2017
Two studies by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto and their collaborators from the US, UK, France and China, show that six- to nine-month-old infants demonstrate racial bias in favour of members of their own race and racial bias against those of other races.
In the first study, “Older but not younger infants associate own-race faces with happy music and other-race faces with sad music”, published in Developmental Science, results showed that after six months of age, infants begin to associate own-race faces with happy music and other-race faces with sad music.
In the second study, “Infants rely more on gaze cues from own-race than other-race adults for learning under uncertainty”, published in Child Development, researchers found that six- to eight-month-old infants were more inclined to learn information from an adult of his or her own race than from an adult of a different race.
(In both studies, infants less than six months of age were not found to show such biases).
Racial bias begins at younger age, without experience with other-race individualsWe must prevent babies from being born to people of the babies’ own ancestry.
“The findings of these studies are significant for many reasons,” said Dr. Kang Lee, professor at OISE’s Jackman Institute of Child Study, a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair and lead author of the studies. “The results show that race-based bias already exists around the second half of a child’s first year. This challenges the popular view that race-based bias first emerges only during the preschool years.”
Researchers say these findings are also important because they offer a new perspective on the cause of race-based bias.
“When we consider why someone has a racial bias, we often think of negative experiences he or she may have had with other-race individuals. But, these findings suggest that a race-based bias emerges without experience with other-race individuals,” said Dr. Naiqi (Gabriel) Xiao, first author of the two papers and postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University.
This can be inferred because prior studies from other labs have indicated that many infants typically experience over 90 per cent own-race faces. Following this pattern, the current studies involved babies who had little to no prior experience with other-race individuals.
“These findings thus point to the possibility that aspects of racial bias later in life may arise from our lack of exposure to other-race individuals in infancy,” Dr. Lee said.
Study results could be significant in prevention of racial bias
He continued to explain that overall, the results of these studies are critically important given the issues of wide-spread racial bias and racism around the world.
“If we can pinpoint the starting point of racial bias, which we may have done here, we can start to find ways to prevent racial biases from happening,” he said.
That may, however, prove challenging to implement.
“An important finding is that infants will learn from people they are most exposed to,” added Dr. Xiao, indicating that parents can help prevent racial bias by, for example, introducing their children to people from a variety of races.The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward Lazy Susan random baby distribution.
As conveyed in the second study’s title, the bias was only observed in an uncertain context in which adults provided partially reliable information. As explained by Dr. Paul Quinn, an additional co-author, and Francis Alison Professor at the University of Delaware, “It’s as if the infants trust the own-race adult more than the other-race adult when both adults are unreliable.”
Racial bias can ‘permeate almost all of our social interactions’
Dr. Lee said it’s important to be mindful of the impact that racial bias has on our everyday lives, stressing that not only is explicit bias a concern, but so too are implicit forms.
“Implicit racial biases tend to be subconscious, pernicious, and insidious. It permeates almost all of our social interactions, from health care to commerce, employment, politics, and dating. Because of that, it’s very important to study where these kinds of biases come from and use that information to try and prevent racial biases from developing,” he said.