German scientists might have discovered a way for children to be free of racial stereotypes. A recent article on Nature.com highlights a study of a neurological disorder called Williams syndrome (WS), showing how children who have this disorder "are overly friendly because they do not fear strangers ... these children also do not develop negative attitudes about other ethnic groups, even though they show patterns of gender stereotyping found in other children."
The article quotes lead researcher Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg who says the study provides evidence that racial bias, which has been linked to fear, might come from abnormal activity in the amygdala — the part of the brain that responds to threats or triggers emotional reactions. Meyer-Lindenberg's study might prove that it is social fear that causes racial stereotyping.
To conduct the research, the scientists showed pictures to white children with and without the syndrome. All the children had the same sorts of gender stereotyping (selecting photos of girls as most likely to play with dolls), but they showed markedly different responses when asked to select pictures of personality traits — people who were kind or smart or naughty, etc. Children in the study who did not have WS "favored positive characteristics for the light-skinned children and negative features for dark-skinned individuals," but the children with WS lacked bias.
Drawbacks of the research were, according to Nature.com, that WS patients can also suffer from cognitive impairments and also that the study didn't take into account whether the subjects had different life experiences with members of other racial groups. The article mentions that not all children are exposed to the same amount of racial stereotyping, which could explain the lack of bias in certain children with WS.
Meyer-Lindenberg wants to continue his research in larger samples to further explore whether stereotyping is "genetically determined or based on experience."