In a study of 1-year-olds, researchers from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver found that babies are not inherently biased against people that are different than them and speak a foreign language. This counters a previous study done on 3-year-olds that found the toddlers discriminated against people that looked or sounded unfamiliar, whether it be their skin tone or language.
The study looked at whether babies expected those who did and did not look like them to act ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and discovered that they did not automatically think that people that spoke a different language would act poorly. In fact, they showed no biases at all either way.
“Persistent discrimination and conflict across cultures has led psychologists to question whether we are naturally inclined to like people who are similar to ourselves and to dislike those who are different, or whether we are taught to feel this way,” said Anthea Pun, the study’s lead author.
“It suggests that we are inclined to like people who are similar to ourselves, but it doesn’t mean that we automatically dislike people who are different than us.”
Since the previous study on 3-year-olds discovered that children were biased by that age, this new study reveals that children may not be born biased, but they certainly learn it from an early age.
Pun’s study looked at 456 infants between the age of 8 to 16 months and sought to determine how quickly they “habituated,” or acclimated, to speakers of their native language and a foreign language. The speakers were presented via a puppet show in which the speakers exhibited either “good” (pro-social/giving) behavior or “bad” (antisocial/taking) behavior.
Researchers looked to see how quickly each baby habituated to the speakers doing a certain behavior and found that babies inherently expect speakers of the native language to be good, but didn’t expect the foreign language speakers to be good or bad. This was ascertained by seeing how fast the babies disengaged and became uninterested with what the speakers were doing, which happens once their expectations are met.
“This study provides critical insight into the origins of social group bias by allowing researchers to understand how positivity and negativity toward groups develops independently,” said co-author Andrew Baron.
Pun said that she chose language for the study because infants hear it from the womb and are more familiar with this constant in their life than anything else. Their native language is essentially established by the time they are born, making language a good indicator of what is familiar and unfamiliar to babies. She said that she plans to further her research to determine how children learn to discriminate and at what age so that racism and other biases can be properly combatted.