Study Explores How Racial Bias Plays Into The Social Dynamics Of Babies

Posted: Updated:
JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images

Toddlers picking playmates seems like a pretty innocent occurrence, but one team of researchers has set out to determine just how early racial bias starts playing a role into preference at an early age.

Jessica Sommerville, an associate professor of psychology who specializes in cognitive development at University of Washington published a study she conducted with her lab on toddlers in the medical journal "Frontiers In Psychology."

“We know that by preschool, children show in-group bias concerning race, but results in infants have been mixed,” Somerville said.

After noticing in a previous study that youngsters seemed to play favoritism based off of the physical characteristics of Sommerville's multiracial staff, the research team decided to further investigate the behavior.

In the first of the two conducted experiments, 40 white babies watched two research assistants distribute toys to two white babies, one who distributed them fairly and one who handed them out unequally. As predicted, the majority -- about 70 percent -- of the toddlers chose the assistant who distribute the toys fairly to be their playmate.

However in the second experiment, one of the recipient babies was Caucasian and the other was Asian. A group of 80 white 15-month-olds watched one assistant fairly distribute toys and one assistant unfairly distribute toys. Half of the toddlers saw the assistant give more toys to the white recipient, and the other half saw more toys distributed to the Asian recipient. Researchers found that in the situations where the assistant gave more toys to the white recipient, the assistant who distributed toys evenly was chosen less often than before as the preferred playmate.

“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 concluded. This means that the toddlers were able to weigh on aesthetic racial characteristics as well as history of social behavior in deciding who they prefer to interact with.

Other psychological studies have found evidence of racial consideration early on in toddlers’ cognitive development. One such study, at the University of Massachusetts, found that in infants as young as 9 months, recognition of faces and facial expression is significantly more accurate for those belonging to the same ethnic group as them.

“These results suggest that biases in face recognition and perception begin in preverbal infants, well before concepts about race are formed. It is important for us to understand the nature of these biases in order to reduce or eliminate [the biases],” University of Massachusetts psychologist Lisa Scott explained.

Yet another study at the University of Virginia found that a “racial empathy gap” exists already by the age 10, sometimes as early as age 5.

One thing is for sure, the more research conducted surrounding the development of racial consciousness in children, the better we will understand it.

Also on The Huffington Post

Babies And Toddlers With Ulterior Motives
Share this
Current Slide

Suggest a correction

Around the Web

9-Month-Olds Show Racial Bias When Looking at Faces | Baby ...

Babies Show Signs of Racial Bias at Nine Months | Behavior ...

9-Month-Olds Show Racial Bias When Looking at Faces - Yahoo ...

Racist Babies? Nine-Month-Olds Show Bias When Looking At Faces ...

Can babies be racist? New study suggests 9-month-olds show bias ...

Babies Can Show Racial Bias | DCentric

Babies prefer fairness – but only if it benefits them – in choosing a ...

In Children, Bias Blooms Chillingly Early | Mind & Matter -

Infants begin to learn about race in the first year -- ScienceDaily

White babies just 15 months old show racial bias when picking ...

Babies show racial bias, study finds

White babies show racial bias, says researchers

Babies can be biased too!

State Supreme Court rejects appeal in baby's death

Handicapping the John Bates Clark Medal

Reform in Reverse

Robbie Morrison & Nick Abadzis bring "Doctor Who" to America

Can Justin Trudeau Succeed Where Stephane Dion, Michael Ignatieff Failed?

Letterman, Hillary, Jeb: 21st Century Symbols

The Racist, Discriminating Democratic Party