Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Reading the Research: Is Prejudice Innate?

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article describes a new finding about infants and their preferences for people.  

It seems infants innately prefer people that speak their native language over people that don't.  They expect pro-social behavior (giving, positive behavior) of speakers of their native language.  But perhaps more tellingly, they had no negative expectations for speakers of different languages.  They didn't fear them, or have any dislike or discomfort about them.

Previous research had focused on three-year-old children, and found that they had the same positive expectations for native speakers.  However, the three-year-olds also had negative expectations for speakers of different languages.

This study, then, suggests that humans are born with an innate positive prejudice towards their own groups (English-speakers prefer English speakers), but that negative prejudices may be learned (English speakers do not necessarily dislike Spanish-speakers).

Why is this important?  Well, if negative prejudice is strictly a learned behavior, then society can be improved so that differences, like autism and other developmental disabilities, are embraced and celebrated rather than shunned.  Parents can teach their kids that people are different, and that's okay, and expect it to stick rather than be shot down by genetics.

In short, if this study is correct, all racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and other forms of negative discrimination are preventable.  If that's not important and worthwhile, I'm not sure what is. 

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