Are Babies Color Blind? New Baby-Cam Evidence


Wearable tech is pushing the boundaries of market research to better understand consumer preferences.  A new baby-cam study published today reveals what the world is like from a first-(little)-person perspective, and shows some interesting insight on preference formation – including, controversially, race. It would seem that babies are not ‘color blind’ when it comes to skin colour – they prefer people with the skin colour they see most often in their first months of life.

Researchers at the Department of Psychology Ryerson University, Toronto recorded the visual experiences of 1-3 month old babies via baby-cams fitted to headbands (worn upside down to be at eye level).  They found that infants spent a large proportion of their time (25%) exposed to faces; and these faces were primarily own-race (96%) , female (70%), and adult (81%) – (link to full research paper).  The near-exclusive exposure to own-race faces surprised the researchers – given the multicultural environment of metropolitan Toronto.  

Previous research found a dose-dependant relationship between the type – including race – of faces that infants are exposed to and preference – the face types that are most frequently experienced by infants become preferred over and more successfully recognised over other face types.  By 3 months of age, infants demonstrate a preference for own-race faces and by 6 months of age, infants demonstrate reduced ability to discriminate between faces in certain other-race categories. So infants learn to like and discriminate between face profiles they see more often, whilst losing the ability to discriminate against those they don’t (something called perceptual narrowing).

What does all this mean?  Any implications are tentative, but own-race preference, as well as the ability to discriminate between own-race faces, may simply be due to a familiarity effect not any ‘natural’ bias.  Could preference based on skin colour therefore be inadvertently ‘learned’ from the faces that parents choose to expose their new born babies to in the first months of life?

 

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3 Comments

  1. February 24, 2014
    Reply

    I don’t think you understand what racism is and can differentiate it from preferences. Babies exhibit a preference for what they’re exposed to and that seems quite natural but a preference does not equal racism. Racism is so much more and is predicated on using a social, political and economic system to rank a group of people based on inheritable and immutable features as inferior. Simply having a preference for a particular type of face doesn’t come close to being racist.

  2. February 25, 2014
    Reply

    Good point. Yes, of course, there is more to racism than disliking people simply because of the colour of their skin – but it’s a key component. Racism is a loaded term – with a myriad of definitions – but liking or disliking people based on skin colour is part of it.

  3. February 25, 2014
    Reply

    I love 99.9% of what you write. This post, not sooo much.

    Sounds like a huge reach and has nothing to do with racism. An infant is at it’s mom’s side 24/7 so of course it sees it’s own race and it has no clue about color and did you guys forget how poor a baby’s sight is at 1 month. They have very poor vision and I could go on and on about how backward and just provocative subject line’ish this article is.

    Why in Toronto would a one month to 3 month old even be out of the house a lot to mingle and socialize. It sleeps 20 hours a day at that age. The next 3 hours are eating and pooping.

    Obviously the researchers have no children. God forbid they do but I think it was to get headlines and get more grant money.

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