Ever look deep into your baby’s eyes and think, “I hope he’s not a racist dick when he grows up”? According to a recent summary of research on the facial recognition skills of infants by Rutgers Psychology Professor Vanessa LoBue, there’s a practical step you can take to ensure this outcome: Expose them to ethnically diverse faces, ASAP (also, not being a racist dick yourself is believed to work).
It’s been understood for a while that a 9-minute-old baby prefers to look at a paddle with a human-like face on it over a blank paddle or one with a Picasso-style jumble of features. A more recent study found that, at around month 3, babies start to prefer faces of their own ethnic group over different ethnicities. By month 9, their ability to distinguish between ethnic groups other than their own starts to diminish — this is called “perceptual narrowing,” and it’s why you’re right to worry about whether or not Junior will grow up with a Larry David-like ability to offend people over their race.
But perceptual narrowing is reversible. In a 2012 paper in the Journal Of Experimental Child Psychology, 8-to-10-month old caucasian babies were shown videos of 8 different Asian women singing or talking for one minute at a time. After 3 weeks, those babies were much better at recognizing Asian faces than a control group, which apparently thought all Asians looked the same.
Presumably, you can achieve this effect even if you don’t live in Queens Village in New York or have a large library of karaoke videos to play for the baby. Just mix a few old issues of National Geographic into their bedtime stories each week, and their first word is sure to be, “Celebrate diversity!”
[H/T] The Conversation