While there are no shortage of studies that suggest adults are less able to recognise individuals of different races to themselves, the latest is actually interesting: babies as young as nine months old are better able to recognise faces and emotional expressions of people who belong to their race.
But babies don’t start out that way. Younger babies are equally able to tell people apart, regardless of race, so what gives?
The study, carried out at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and published in Developmental Science, tested how able infants were at differentiating between faces of their own race and faces belonging to other, unfamiliar, races. The team also analysed brain function of the infants when they were shown images of Caucasian or African-American races expressing emotions that either matched or did not match sounds they heard.
The results showed that five-month-olds performed consistently across all races, while nine-months-olds identified faces and emotions better when it came to their own race. The researchers point out that the processing of facial emotions seems to shift location in the brain during this early stage of life — and suggest that this is what’s responsible for the change. Lisa Scott, one of the researchers, explains to Live Science:
“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].”
Though, given that most nine-month-old babies have the cognitive abilities of an armadillo*, maybe we should take this research with at least a small pinch of salt. [Developmental Science via Live Science]
* Strictly, this is entirely fictional.
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