UMass Study Examines How Infants Perceive People Who Look Different

Lisa S. Scott, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, finds that children begin to distinguish people by racial characteristics by the age of nine months.

According to Scott’s research, at the age of nine months infants are better at recognizing facial and emotional expressions of people within groups they interact with the most. According to Dr. Scott’s findings, nine-month-old infants show a decline in their ability to tell apart two faces of people of a different race.

Dr. Scott brought 48 White babies with little or no exposure to African American to her lab. She showed them pictures and measured their brain activity. Five-month-old babies were found to have no differences in facial recognition tests but nine-month-old babies were better at telling apart two faces within their own race.

This research suggests that throughout the first year of life, babies are developing highly specialized perceptual abilities in response to important people in their environment, such as family members. This focus of attention to familiar groups of people compared to unfamiliar groups is hypothesized to be the root of later difficulties some adults have in identifying and recognizing faces of other races.

Dr. Scott says, “The results of this research may serve as a guide for early education and interventions designed to reduce later racial prejudice and stereotyping. 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.”

Dr. Scott’s research is published in the May issue of the journal Developmental Science.

Related Articles

1 COMMENT

  1. I am not surprised at the results of the study focusing on the degree to which children of a specific age can or cannot recognize different faces and emotional reactions of people from a group different than their own group or the group they most interactive. I am surprised however that they did not also include children of other races also. I believe there would be a different results across different groups. (Possibly) The fact that the children were less able to discern the facial emotions displayed by the faces of the different group fits the same pattern of the same groups’ adults. It is well know among individuals who teach multicultural or intercultural training workshops, that each group shows, reads and reacts to various scenerios differently, from a cultural perspective, taught within their group vicariously. When the differing group tries to interpret the emotional response many times it is negatively misinterpreted; not necessarily a prejudice perspective but a cultural insensitivity or lack of awareness of how to read the groups’ emotional and behavioral responses. Once again the workshops also teach that positive exposure, tasks with common goals and alignment with different groups from similar jobs, SES etc. increases positive familiarity, positive perspectives later, ability to better discern emotions and behavior of the differing group and improvement in race relations across every aspect of the individuals’ lives.

Leave a Reply

Get the JBHE Weekly Bulletin

Receive our weekly email newsletter delivered to your inbox

Latest News

Alcorn State University Recruited for Federal Student Pathway Program for Careers in Public Service

The Pathway Public Service Program was established in 2019 to develop the next generation of diverse, qualified, and motivated public health servants. Over the past five years, the program has hired over 100 student interns.

Five Black Scholars Selected for New Faculty Positions

The five Black scholars who aer taking on new roles are Khadene Harris at Rice University in Houston, Nakia Melecio at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Bettina Drake at Washington University in St. Louis, Arlette Ngoubene Atioky at Goucher College in Maryland, and Kandi Hill-Clarke at the University of Memphis.

Getty Images to Preserve Digital Photo Archives at Delaware State University

Currently, Delaware State University's photo archives contain thousands of photographs taken over the course of the university's 133 year history. Thanks to a new partnership with Getty Images, those images will be digitized and made available on gettyimages.com.

Porché Spence Recognized for Outstanding Commitment to Advancing Diversity in Ecology

Dr. Spence currently serves as an assistant professor of environmental studies at North Carolina A&T State University. Throughout her career, she has developed several educational programs geared towards introducing students of color to environmental science fields.

Featured Jobs