SciTech

Researchers discover basis for prejudice

Researchers believe stereotyping may be a natural psychological phenomenon. However, children with Williams Syndrome do not show fear in social situations, and do not stereotype people based on race. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) Researchers believe stereotyping may be a natural psychological phenomenon. However, children with Williams Syndrome do not show fear in social situations, and do not stereotype people based on race. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) Researchers believe stereotyping may be a natural psychological phenomenon. However, children with Williams Syndrome do not show fear in social situations, and do not stereotype people based on race. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) Researchers believe stereotyping may be a natural psychological phenomenon. However, children with Williams Syndrome do not show fear in social situations, and do not stereotype people based on race. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Prejudice is an issue we have faced time and time again. In the media today, we often witness how movies, television shows, and music fortify and proliferate negative stereotypes, stereotypes that have caught the eyes and ears of human-rights groups constantly throughout the past century.

For years, people have pondered the origins of prejudice and have often only resorted to speculation. Recent studies, however, have suggested a new alternative that suggests that prejudice and racial stereotyping might, in fact, be genetic. Children with a genetic condition known as Williams Syndrome do not display the tendency to stereotype other people based on their race, a tendency that most children have from a very early age.

Previous studies have shown the presence of racial stereotypes to be prevalent in children as early as age three, to the same extent that these stereotypes are present in adults. Additionally, racial stereotyping has been found to be present in children with autism who have difficulties in social interaction and the development of social knowledge. However, according to www.labspaces.net, in this new study by Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg of the Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim and the University of Heidelberg in Germany, researchers showed children a series of pictures having people of different races and genders, and asked the children to assign positive or negative features to them. Typical children made strong stereotypical assignments for gender roles as well as for race, which was similar to results of older studies. However, in children with Williams Syndrome, almost no evidence of racial bias whatsoever was found.

Williams Syndrome is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder caused by deletions of about 26 genes from the long arm of chromosome seven. Children with Williams Syndrome are known to have unusually friendly natures because they lack the sense of fear that other people feel in various social situations. As this is the case, the findings in this new study support the notion that prejudice and racial stereotyping may be the result of social fear.

In the past century, scientists have made great advances into the understanding of prejudice, its causes, and ways to change and prevent it. According to Social Psychology, prejudice, from a psychologist’s standpoint, is a hostile or negative attitude toward a distinguishable group of people. When looking at prejudice as an attitude, it is important to consider its different levels. Even though we look down upon its explicit level, which is when individuals consciously show their thoughts, feelings, and actions, we often overlook its implicit level, which is involuntary, uncontrollable, and at times unconscious. It is this implicit level of prejudice we may more commonly experience and must work harder to change.

The most prominent method used to reduce racial prejudice is to bring members from various different groups together and put them in a situation where they must rely on each other to achieve a common goal. There is an extensive amount of both formal and informal contact among the members, and there is equal status and social norms of equality among the members. Various techniques, including the jigsaw classroom — a teaching technique that places students of different genders and ethnicities into groups — incorporate these ideas to combat prejudice from an early age.

From the study’s findings, however, researchers hope to find ways to develop new means of intervention designed to reduce discriminatory attitudes and behavior towards marginalized or vulnerable groups. “This is the first study to report the absence of racial stereotypes in any human population,” said Meyer-Lindenberg. As this is the case, the findings in this study may open a gateway into both genetic research and social psychology that may revolutionize our approach in combating prejudice by confronting the issue on multiple levels.