|Race, Gender and Fear-based Stereotypes|
|SciMed - Genetics & Genome|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Thursday, 15 April 2010 08:00|
Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, GER. A study reported in Current Biology presents genetic evidence that social fear is at the root of racial stereotypes.
Children with the genetic condition known as Williams Syndrome (WS) have unusually friendly natures because they lack the sense of fear that the rest of us feel in many social situations.
The study is the first to report the absence of racial stereotypes in any human population. WS children miss something else the rest of us have from a very tender age: the proclivity to stereotype others based on their race.
The researchers show that WS children lack racial stereotyping, though they retain gender stereotyping, when compared to a matched group of typically developing children. For race at least, WS is associated with reduced social fear processing, a finding that might bring improved clarity to discussions of stereotyping. This could aid in the development of interventions designed to reduce discriminatory attitudes and behavior towards vulnerable or marginalized groups of society.
Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg of the Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim / University of Heidelberg, coauthored the paper with Andreia Santos and Christine Deruelle of the Mediterranean Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in Marseille.
The children with Williams Syndrome made stereotypical sex role assignments just like other children, suggesting that different forms of stereotyping arise from different brain mechanisms.Previous studies have shown that stereotypes are found ubiquitously in typically developing children — as early as age 3 — as they are in adults, Meyer-Lindenberg explained. Even children with autism display racial stereotypes, despite profound difficulties in daily social interaction and a general failure to show adapted social knowledge.
In their study, the researchers showed children a series of vignettes with people differing in race or gender and asked the children to assign positive or negative features to those pictured.
Typical children made strongly stereotypical assignments both for sex roles and for race, confirming the results of previous studies. On the other hand, children with Williams Syndrome showed no evidence for racial bias.
"The unique hypersociable profile of individuals with Williams Syndrome often leads them to consider that everybody in the world is their friend," Meyer-Lindenberg said.
"In previous work, we have shown that processing of social threat is deficient in people with the syndrome. Based on this, we suspected that they would not show a particular preference for own-race versus other-race characters. The finding that racial stereotypes in children with Williams Syndrome were completely absent was nevertheless surprising in its degree."
The children with Williams Syndrome did make stereotypical sex role assignments just like normal children. That finding suggests that different forms of stereotyping arise from different brain mechanisms, the researchers say, and that those mechanisms are selectively affected in some way by the genetic alteration that causes Williams Syndrome (the loss of about 26 genes on chromosome 7).
ParticipantsThe researchers include Andreia Santos, University of Heidelberg/Medical Faculty Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany, Mediterranean Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, CNRS, Marseille, France, Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, University of Heidelberg/Medical Faculty Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany, & Christine Deruelle, Mediterranean Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, CNRS, Marseille, France.
CitationAbsence of racial, but not gender, stereotyping in Williams Syndrome children. Andreia Santos, Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, Christine Deruelle. Current Biology 2010; 20(7): R307-R308. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2010.02.009
Stereotypes — often implicit attributions to an individual based on group membership categories such as race, religion, age, gender, or nationality — are ubiquitous in human interactions. Even three-year old children clearly prefer their own ethnic group and discriminate against individuals of different ethnicities. While stereotypes may enable rapid behavioural decisions with incomplete information, such biases can lead to conflicts and discrimination, especially because stereotypes can be implicit and automatic, making an understanding of the origin of stereotypes an important scientific and socio-political topic. An important process invoked by out-groups is social fear. A unique opportunity to study the contribution of this mechanism to stereotypes is afforded by individuals with the microdeletion disorder Williams Syndrome (WS), in which social fear is absent, leading to an unusually friendly, high approachability behaviour, including towards strangers. Here we show that children with WS lack racial stereotyping, though they retain gender stereotyping, compared to matched typically developing children. Our data indicate that mechanisms for the emergence of gender versus racial bias are neurogenetically dissociable. Specifically, because WS is associated with reduced social fear, our data support a role of social fear processing in the emergence of racial, but not gender, stereotyping.
|Last Updated on Sunday, 18 April 2010 16:48|