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Babies don’t discriminate until they learn how to: UBC study

People are not born with a bias against those who are different than them, but they learn that behaviour by the time they are 3-years old

Babies are not born with biases against people who are different than them, according to a new UBC study.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Babies are not born with biases against people who are different than them, according to a new UBC study.

Disliking people who are different is a learned behaviour, according to a new University of British Columbia study.

The finding builds on previous research that showed even toddlers as young as three years old have negative associations with people different than them and prefer people of their own language, racial, and cultural groups.

But UBC developmental psychology researcher Anthea Pun found one year olds in her study showed no expectations, good or bad, toward people who are different than them.

“Cleary, they are not born with this bias to expect bad things from certain people,” she said.

She measured 456 babies’ expectations by recording their attention spans over several repetitions of a puppet show – the longer they kept watching, the more surprised they were.

Researchers found babies expected puppets that spoke their language – in this case, English – to act kind and were surprised when the puppets were mean.

In contrast, babies showed no difference in attention span when French-speaking puppets acted kind or mean. This demonstrates the babies had no expectations of the puppet speaking an unfamiliar language.

“It suggests that we are inclined to like people who are similar to ourselves, but that it doesn’t mean that we automatically dislike people who are different than us,” said Pun.

Babies do not learn how to discriminate against those who are different than them until later in life.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Babies do not learn how to discriminate against those who are different than them until later in life.

She chose language as the variable in the experiment because it is one of the first things babies understand as familiar.

“With language, they are hearing it even in the womb. They are developing a good sense of what becomes their native language.”

Pun plans to investigate how children learn to discriminate in future studies.

“By the age of eight to 10, they are trying to provide better resources for their own group but they are giving bad resources to outside members,” she said.

“It is important to see why and how these biases develop depending on the environment that you’re in. We’d like to investigate that further in the future.”

Pun’s paper, written in partnership with researchers from Bar-Ilan University in Israel, was published in Developmental Science Thursday.

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