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?