A new study found that by the time they’re nine months old, babies’ brains become much better at recognizing faces and emotions of people who are in the racial groups with which they interact the most. Of course, that’s typically their own race, and so it begins, a lifetime of subconsciously seeing the world as an us versus them kind of place.
does this mean we’re inherently terrible racists who prefer to only pay attention to our own kind? Not exactly. However, that racist phenomenon in adults where someone says, “All [insert racial group here] people look alike,” probably does have real roots in this skill that we hone so early. (Still not excusable in grownups.) But really these findings don’t have much to do with race as we come to understand it as adults. As Scott explains,
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 them.
Ehhh … there’s a pretty huge gap between recognizing differences and using them as the basis of discrimination. I think it’s great to understand where the tendency to build the “Us vs. Them” mindset begins, but I’d wager that working on the tendency to generalize and discriminate based on those recognized differences might be more helpful.
And, while further research would need to be done to bear this out, it seems highly likely that the more diverse an environment a baby is raised in, the less pronounced this effect would become. The baby would essentially be forced to be a generalist, rather than a specialist, when it came to the way people looked. That would probably leave their brain a lot more flexible later in life when it came to thinking about racial divisions put in place by society, and who they perceived as different or an “outsider.”
There’s the answer. Let’s all trade babies!