Treatments

Without Fear, Racial Stereotypes Fail To Take Root

Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a world that was completely color blind. But research has shown that racial stereotypes are found in every culture and every people — even children as young as 3 years old tend to prefer their own racial group.

It's universal. Almost.

A few people are completely and utterly blind to race: children with a rare genetic disorder known as Williams syndrome, according to findings published in the journal Current Biology.

Children (and adults) with Williams are incredibly friendly and have little or no social fear. In fact people with Williams are so hyper-social that the it is sometime thought of as the mirror image of autism. As one mother of a kid with Williams once told me, "To someone like my daughter there are no strangers, only friends she has not yet met."

And it is this utter lack of social fear, researchers from the Mediterranean Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and the University of Heidelberg in Germany write, that ultimately is responsible for the absence of racial bias.

Though the Williams children didn't have racial stereotypes, they did have the same gender stereotypes as kids without the disorder. Probably because gender doesn't excite fear in the same way that race does, the researchers say. "These findings," they write, "support the notion that social fear is at the root of racial stereotypes."

Previous research looking at people with the syndrome has helped scientists unravel mysteries of human language.

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