Race or class irrelevant in intelligence of babies, groundbreaking Oxford study finds

The basics make the difference – medical care and nutrition:

Babies born in similar circumstances will thrive regardless of race or geography, Oxford-led research has found, quashing the idea that race or class determines intelligence.

In a scientific first, the team of researchers tracked the physical and intellectual development of babies around the world from the earliest days after conception to age two.

“At every single stage we’ve shown that healthy mothers have healthy babies and that healthy babies all grow at exactly the same rate,” said Professor Stephen Kennedy, the co-director of the Oxford Maternal and Perinatal Health Institute. “It doesn’t matter where you are living, it doesn’t matter what the colour of your skin is, it doesn’t matter what your race and ethnicity is, receiving decent medical care and nutrition is the key.”

The INTERGROWTH-21st Project, jointly led by Prof. Kennedy and Prof. Jose Villar at Oxford, involved nearly 60,000 mothers and babies worldwide, tracking growth in the womb, then followed more than 1,300 of the children, measuring physical growth and development.

The mothers – in locations as diverse as Brazil, India and Italy – were chosen because they were in good health and lived in similar environments. Their babies scored similarly on physical and intellectual development: in fact, researchers found more variation within racial groups than between them.

The study should help settle the ongoing debate genetics as a determination in intelligence which has been rumbling since the publication of Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve in the 1990s. The book argued that a “cognitive elite” was becoming separated from the general population.

“There’s still a substantial body of opinion out there in both the scientific and lay communities who… believe that intelligence is predominantly determined by genes and the environment that you’re living in and that your parents and grandparents were living in and their nutritional and health status are not relevant,” said Prof Kennedy. “Well, that’s clearly not the case.”

Obama’s viral tweet is wrong: Research shows babies are totally racist

The article and cited research is considerable more nuanced than the headline – babies prefer the familiar (bias) unless exposed to diversity from the beginning:

In what soon became the world’s most liked tweet, former president Barack Obama this week responded to a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia by posting a famous quote from South African leader Nelson Mandela.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion,” reads the quote, which is pulled from Mandela’s 1994 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

Two subsequent tweets then finish the quote, “people must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

The quote is a nice sentiment, but it doesn’t quite line up with science. According to a growing body of infant research, racism is often a default setting for babies. Tolerance, not racism, is what needs to be hammered into young minds.

“Parents do not teach children to be biased,” said Kang Lee, a human development researcher at the University of Toronto.

Lee said that while a racist parent can exploit a child’s innate biases, most children will organically begin to dismiss other races soon after their birth.

Mandela was correct in that no baby is born with inherent prejudices. But at around six months, the average infant will automatically begin to distrust anything that looks and sounds different than their parents.

“Because most of us are born into monoracial environments we start to show preferences for own-race individuals, and then we start to show biases,” he said.

The baby begins to associate positive things, such as happy music, with their own race. Sad music gets associated with other races. Foreign languages and accents, meanwhile, sound scary and unfamiliar.

“If they hear English, they prefer English — they don’t like people who speak French,” said Lee.

Much of Lee’s research has focused on tracking the eye movements of young children to gauge their racial preference. A June study exposed infants to images of ethnically diverse faces, and discovered that the babies spent most of their time looking at the faces that most resembled their parents.

“Caucasian infants look longer at Caucasian faces than at other-race ones,” it read, adding “when the same Caucasian and Asian faces are shown to Asian three-month-olds … they look more at the Asian faces.”

Documented in numerous other studies around the world, it’s been called the Other Race Effect, the inability of infants to distinguish the faces of ethnicities they aren’t used to.

Spontaneous outpourings of childhood racial bigotry can sometimes emerge on the first day of preschool. In a February article in Today’s Parent, a Toronto parent expressed horror that her four-year-old son stopped playing with black children and declared his sudden dislike for NHLer P.K. Subban.

“He had been obsessed with P.K. since age two. Suddenly, he refused to wear his P.K. jersey or sleep with his P.K. doll,” said the mother, whose name was not used in the story.

Another of Lee’s tests exposed seven-month-olds to a video of a human face that would gaze at different corners of the screen, after which pleasing images of animals would appear in those corners.

Across the board, babies were more likely to trust the face’s “predictions” if it matched their own race — even if the faces were wrong.

An image showing the video presented to infants, in which pictures would appear at corners of the screen in sync with the gazes of a face.

Of course, the outcomes of these kinds of tests are much different for babies who grew up around other races.

An illuminating 2006 study out of Tel-Aviv University exposed three-month-olds to a gallery of black and white faces. Caucasian Israelis favoured white faces and African Ethiopians favoured black faces. However, Israeli Ethiopian babies — who lived in predominantly white surroundings — showed no preference for either.

“Early preferences for own-race faces may contribute to race-related biases later in life,” read the study.

Lee has been trying for 10 years to gauge the implicit biases of babies from mixed-race households, but even in Toronto, Lee’s lab has not been able to recruit enough mixed-race babies to study.

Raising a child free of racism is generally a simple matter of getting the children accustomed to other races. Lee compared it to how sushi gained a hold on the North American palate.

A combo picture shows portraits of newborn Israeli babies on October 31, 2011 at the maternity ward of the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem.

Critically, said Lee, the children must never be told that the figures they’re seeing are a different race than them.

A white child should be exposed to public figures like Barack Obama, for instance, but without parents explicitly specifying that Obama is a black man.

“If you do that, you actually increase the racial biases, even if you’re talking about positive things — this is the mistake we’ve been making,” Lee said.

In a recent study, Lee and fellow researchers tested the theory on children in a Chinese preschool.

In one test, children were asked to look at non-Chinese faces and match one of the faces with a portrait they were provided.. In another, children were asked simply to sort the non-Chinese faces by “white” and “black.”

“Individuation training significantly reduced Chinese children’s implicit racial bias against Blacks and Whites, but mere exposure did not,” the study found.

South African President Nelson Mandela takes the oath 10 May 1994 during his inauguration.

Mandela’s quote was taken from a section of his autobiography that describes his inauguration following South Africa’s first free elections after decades of apartheid. Even during his 27-year imprisonment, Mandela said that he never doubted such a day would come.

“I always knew that deep down in every heart there is mercy and generosity,” he wrote.

This sentiment is indeed finding footing in science.

At Yale University’s Infant Cognition Center — run by Saskatchewan-raised researcher Karen Wynn — tests keep showing that babies are inherently moral beings who understand the difference between right and wrong.

The only trick is getting those babies to show kindness to the babies who don’t look like them.

As Paul Bloom, a collaborator with the centre wrote in a lengthy piece for The New York Times, “our initial moral sense appears to be biased toward our own kind.”

Source: Obama’s viral tweet is wrong: Research shows babies are totally racist

Do babies show bias? Researchers seek the roots of racism

Interesting research and related debate:

Is your brain racist?

The answer may not be simple.

For decades, sociologists and scientists have been studying racism and racial bias. And it turns out, human brains may be at the root.

There are two types of bias: explicit, which is obvious, and implicit, where preconceived ideas of which people are unaware influence their behaviour.

While people may hold the steadfast belief that they aren’t racist, it’s still likely they exhibit implicit bias.

There have been many examples of how racial bias creeps into everyday life, from hiring practices to police actions to basketball.

There’s even a test for it, the Implicit Association Test. Developed by researchers at Harvard University, it measures people’s automatic associations between concepts and evaluations.

The test measures responses when sorting black and white faces while connecting them with words. The key is hesitation. A person may try to associate good with a particular race, but it might take them longer to respond, a sign that subconsciously, a person’s brain associates unpleasantness with a particular race.

Babies’ brains

So when do people begin to exhibit signs of racial bias? Some studies suggest it begins when babies are mere months old.

Kang Lee, a developmental neuroscientist who studies social cognition and behaviour at the University of Toronto, has done several studies on racial bias.

Most recently, Lee published two studies in the journal Child Development. One study suggested that racial bias may be present in babies between six and nine months old.

The study concluded that between these ages, babies begin to associate faces from their race with pleasant music and faces from other races with sad music.

“Basically, at three months of age, they like to look at things that are familiar, like food,” Kang said. They like familiar formula or prefer to hear their mother’s voice over someone else’s.

“This is purely experiential and based on perception cues,” he siad. “But there is no bias; they don’t attach negativity to people they’re not familiar with. But by six months of age they start to do that.”

In his second study, Lee concluded that babies are more likely to learn faster from people of their own race than from others.

The tendency to prefer own-race faces, or associate them with pleasant experiences, may be left over from early human evolution, Lee said. Before globalization, humans existed in more homogenous societies. They rarely encountered those from other races, and when they did, often they’d battle over food or territory.

Another researcher disagrees

But not everyone agrees that children so young exhibit racial bias. Andrew Baron, an associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of British Columbia, has also extensively studied bias. He doesn’t believe children just months old are necessarily exhibiting racial bias.

Many of the tests for babies, including Lee’s, measures the time a baby looks at an individual. But Baron says that’s not a fair measure.

“They look at things they like,” Baron said. “Total looking time doesn’t tell you what they’re thinking. In [Lee’s] study, they reported longer looking time, but there’s no reason to think that longer is due to race.”

Instead, they could be looking longer because an object is new to them, he said.

“My take is that it could be that own race is paired with positive,” Baron said. “But they could be looking at other race because it’s new and strange; there could be other interpretations.”

Reversing the process

Children’s apparent preferences for those of their own race don’t necessarily last, and they don’t mean the babies will become racist.

But there are ways to limit racial bias in children.

“Introduce kids to have experiences with other-race individuals, either face-to-face or with media,” Lee suggests. Parents could also avoid labelling people by race.

Source: Do babies show bias? Researchers seek the roots of racism – Technology & Science – CBC News