Scientists discover a way to reverse racial bias in young children. But how firm is the effect?
I am not sure that the authors of the baby studies below realize what they have shown. They showed that in initial encounters babies are biased. They simply prefer familiar appearances. But that is very temporary. Given just a little extra information, biases vanish. People recognized as individuals tended to be accepted as individuals, despite differences in appearances.
But that is only the beginning of the story. What happens in real life outside the deliberately limited context of a psychology laboratory?
What we do see from the experiments described below is that "Stereotypes" are highly malleable and responsive to extra information. They are not mentally imprisoning. Even a little information makes a big difference to impressions. That is in fact what the whole stereotyping literature shows. See here, here and here
So people do respond cautiously to differences in appearances BUT the response is very plastic. Caution will evaporate if and only if nothing important is associated with the different appearance. That is the opposite of the old claim that stereotypes are rigid mental straitjackets. Given extra information prejudgments will in fact change rapidly -- for better or for worse. They are very reality-sensitive.
A rather good example of that process is on view daily in Australia. Australia has a large East Asian minority, mostly Han Chinese. And it is so common to see young East Asian women on the arms of tall Caucasian men that one looks with some surprise at couples who are both Han. In such couples the man will, however, invariably be a TALL Han man. The little East Asian ladies go for tall men and they get them. They like height and they want tall children.
And relaxed Australian whites are fine by them. The ladies are probably in general a bit smarter than the Caucasian whites they grab but they know that the men concerned are easy-going in the traditional Australian way so they can live with that.
But the tallest population group in Australia are dark-skinned East Africans. Many are very tall indeed. And so many of them have come to Australia as refugees that it is common to see them lounging around the streets and shopping centres. But I have yet to see ONE of them partnered with ANY kind of an Asian lady.
The lesson? Easy. Interracial relationships may start out from a simplistic base of preferring familiar appearance but the real characteristics of people rapidly come to dominate relationships. African men are generally poor, dumb and aggressive and nobody but their own women wants them, except for a very few socially marginal or foolish white females. No Asians want them. So the Asian ladies are racist in that they recognize real racial differences -- but they are not bigoted. They in fact prefer a race different from their own. They respond to important differences and ignore unimportant ones.
Reality is so much more complex than the simplistic formulas used by the Left.
Children as young as three months old have been found to have a bias towards women who are the same race as themselves.
Now, a University of Delaware scientist has discovered a simple exercise that he claims can undo this unconscious racial biases in young children.
Using the technique of measuring how much time the babies spend looking at pictures of faces, Paul Quinn has spent a decade studying how infants classify race and gender.
At six months, Quinn said, the infants were classifying faces into three groups - Caucasian, African and Asian.
He has found that, by nine months of age, infants not only distinguish racial categories but also become less able to tell different individuals apart if they are members of a less-familiar race.
For example, white infants can identify white faces as belonging to different individuals, but they are less likely to see Asian or African faces as distinct individuals.
'Might these perceptual biases we see in infants be related to the social biases that we see in older kids, beginning at three or four years of age, and adults?,' Quinn said. 'And if they are, can we use a technique to reduce bias?
'As we tried to answer this question, we hit on the idea that if the perceptual and social biases are linked, we might be able to reduce the social bias by perceptual means.'
In their latest study, published in July in the journal Developmental Science, Quinn and his collaborators in China used photos of African and Asian faces and morphed them together to create ambiguous images that looked equally African and Asian.
Some of the faces had pleasant expressions, while others looked more severe.
When researchers showed the images to four- to six-year-olds in China, the children identified the happy faces as Asian - the category they were used to seeing - and the angry faces as African, a group they rarely saw in daily life.
The scientists' wanted to see whether the children's unconscious racial biases could be disrupted. They showed the youngsters five different African faces and gave each of the individuals a name, repeating the process until the children could identify each of the five faces by name.
When the children then looked at the happy and angry ambiguous-race photos again, their bias in favour of their own racial group had dropped dramatically.
'This process of getting the kids to respond to the [five African] faces as individuals, not as a category, only takes 15-30 minutes, and it made a significant difference,' Quinn said.
'It suggests that what is a social bias has [visual] perceptual components and that it can be disrupted.'
Another, related study that Quinn conducted in his lab at UD with babies from the Newark, Delaware, area has been published online by Developmental Science, with print publication expected in the future.
In this study, researchers worked with Caucasian babies to explore how and at what ages they began forming categories of people based on the racial characteristics of faces.