Study: Babies Show Racial Bias
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SEATTLE (CBS Seattle) – According to a recent study, babies tend to play with others that look more like them.
Researchers from the University of Washington noticed that babies were more willing to share their toys with others who shared their ethnicity.
“It’s not like one experimenter was nicer or friendlier to the babies – we control for factors like that,” Jessica Sommerville, a UW associate professor of psychology, said in a press release put out by the university. “At the time, about half of the research assistants in my lab were Asian-American and the other half were Caucasian, and most of the babies in our experiments are Caucasian,” Sommerville said. “We know that by preschool, children show in-group bias concerning race, but results in infants have been mixed.”
Sommerville and her team came up with an experiment to test how race and fairness can influence a baby’s selection of playmate.
“It’s surprising to see these pro-social traits of valuing fairness so early on, but at the time, we’re also seeing that babies have self-motivated concerns too,” Sommerville said.
Forty white 15-month-old infants and their mothers participated in the study. The babies sat on their mother’s lap while watching toys being divided. One person divided the toys evenly, while another divided the toys unevenly.
The babies then were able to choose who to play with and 70 percent of the babies chose to play with the person who divided the toys evenly.
The researchers say that this showed that when people are the same race as the baby, the baby will choose their playmates based on fairness.
The researchers then tried another experiment. For the second test, 80 white 15-month-old babies watched as toys were distributed. This time half the babies watched as more toys were given to the Asian recipient; and the other half watched as more were given to a white recipient.
The babies were then let to choose a playmate and more times chose the white recipient.
“If all babies care about is fairness, then they would always pick the fair distributor, but we’re also seeing that they’re interested in consequences for their own group members,” Sommerville said.
Researchers say that these findings take race into account when babies choose a playmate.
“Babies are sensitive to how people of the same ethnicity as the infant, versus a different ethnicity, are treated – they weren’t just interested in who was being fair or unfair,” Monica Burns, co-author of the study and a former UW Psychology undergraduate student, and currently a psychology graduate student at Harvard University, said. “It’s interesting how infants integrate information before choosing who to interact with, they’re not just choosing based on a single dimension.”
Sommerville did point out that this research does not mean that babies are racist.
“Racism connotes hostility,” she said, “and that’s not what we studied.”
Sommerville says that her study shows “babies use basic distinctions, including race, to start to cleave the world apart by groups of what they are and aren’t a part of.”
The findings were published in the online journal Frontiers in Psychology and funded by a Psychology of Character grand from Wake Forest University.
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