Staring Prejudice in the Face

By Rebecca Rialon | March 1, 2006 | 0 comments

Decades of psychological research has shown that people exhibit a strong preference for members of their own group over members of other groups, and these preferences surface even in young children. Yet other research, guided by psychologist Gordon Allport’s “contact theory,” suggests that, under the right conditions, these prejudices can be challenged by exposing people to members of other groups.

A study recently published in Psychological Science tested the contact theory. The study, conducted by researchers in Israel and Ethiopia, measured the length of time that 36 three-month-old infants looked at faces of individuals from their own race versus faces of people from different racial backgrounds. Infants were first separated into three groups based on their race and their living environment: Caucasian infants living in a Caucasian environment in Israel; African infants living in an African environment in Ethiopia; and African infants living in a predominantly Caucasian environment in Israel. The researchers then showed the infants a series of pictures of Caucasian faces side-by-side with African faces. With each pair of faces, experimenters recorded which face the infants focused on for a longer period of time; they considered the amount of time the infants spent looking at that face to reflect their overall preference for faces of that race. The researchers wanted to see whether the infants’ racial preferences were related to the environment in which they lived.

An example of pairs of photographs used by researchers in their study of racial preference An example of pairs of photographs used by researchers in their study of racial preference

The results showed that those infants living mainly among people of their own race—Caucasian infants living in Israel and African infants living in Ethiopia—preferred to look at faces of people from their own racial group. However, African infants living in a Caucasian environment showed no particular preference for African or Caucasian faces.

“Although these findings indicate that preference for own-race faces emerges out of very early exposure to prototypical perceptual environments,” the researchers write, “they also demonstrate that significant exposure to other-race faces can block the development of own-race preference.” They argue that because racial preferences early in life can lead to racial prejudices later, further research should determine precisely when these racial preferences might be altered by exposure to people of other races. 

Tracker Pixel for Entry
 
 
 

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

 
  

Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

Donate
 
  
 
blog comments powered by Disqus
 

Most...

  
  

Greater Good Events

Mindful Self-Compassion: Core Skills Training
International House
December 9-10, 2016


Mindful Self-Compassion: Core Skills Training

This workshop is an introduction to Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), an empirically-supported training program based on the pioneering research of Kristin Neff and the clinical perspective of Chris Germer.


» ALL EVENTS
 
 

Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!

» TAKE A QUIZ
 

Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.

Watch
 

Greater Good Resources

 
 
» MORE STUDIES
 
 
» MORE ORGS
 

Book of the Week

How Pleasure Works By Paul Bloom Bloom explores a broad range of human pleasures from food to sex to religion to music. Bloom argues that human pleasure is not purely an instinctive, superficial, sensory reaction; it has a hidden depth and complexity.

» READ MORE
 
Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement