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.