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Is Your Baby Showing Racial Bias?

Babies sitting in a row, rear view
Photograph by Getty Images

Researchers have found that children as young as three months old can show preferential bias toward women who are the same race as themselves.

Paul Quinn, a scientist at the University of Delaware, has spent a decade researching how infants classify race and gender. His research shows that by six months of age, infants classify faces to be either Caucasian, African or Asian. By nine months, white babies can identify white individuals by face, but they are less able to tell people apart if they are members of a less-familiar race.

"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 posited to the Daily Mail. "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."

Quinn and his team of researchers have found an easy solution to undo infants' unconscious racial biases. They used photos of African and Asian faces and morphed them together to form images that were equal parts of both races. Some faces were happy, and some were angry.

Researchers showed the photos to children in China, ranging in age from 4 years old to 6 years old. The children identified the happy faces as Asian and the angry faces as African. The scientists then worked to disrupt the children's racial biases.

They showed the children five different African faces and gave them each a name. They repeated it until the children could identify each face by name. When the children looked at the original set of photos again, their racial bias had dropped dramatically.

"This process of getting the kids to respond to the [five African] races as individuals, not as a category, only takes 15–30 minutes, and it made a significant difference," Quinn told the Daily Mail. "It suggests that what is a social bias has [visual] perceptual components and that it can be disrupted."

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