People with Williams Syndrome lack 26 genes found in a typical human genome. As a result they are inordinately friendly, and experience no social anxiety. Now a new study reveals that they may also be free of racial bias.
Over at Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong talks about the new study, published this week in Current Biology. Yong writes:
Santos compared the behaviour of 20 white children with Williams syndrome, aged 7 to 16, and 20 typical white children of similar backgrounds and mental ages. To do so, she used a test called the Preschool Racial Attitude Measure (PRAM-II), which is designed to tease out traces of gender or racial biases in young children.
PRAM-II consists of a picture book where every page includes a pair of people of different genders or skin types. The researcher tells a selection of stories to accompany the images and the children have to point to the person whom they think the story is about. As they hear positive or negative adjectives, they reveal any underlying racial bias if they point to light-skinned or dark-skinned people, or men or women, more frequently.
The typical children showed a strong tendency to view light-skinned people well and dark-skinned people poorly. Out of their responses, 83% were consistent with a pro-white bias. In contrast, the children with Williams syndrome only showed such responses 64% of the time, which wasn't significantly different from chance.
So it would seem that removing social fear from the human emotional range might also cut down on racism. Though it's worth noting that it wouldn't help with sexism, since Williams Syndrome kids scored close to typical kids when it came to gender bias.
Several other scientists took issue with this study, partly because the sample size was so small (just twenty kids). But there are also problems with the PRAM test, which limits children to choosing either white people or people of color - there is no option to choose both, or "either one." As University of Oregon's Aliya Saperstein pointed out:
The results don't demonstrate or prove an absence of bias. And like all similar tests, the study may tap partly into one's knowledge of social stereotypes not just one's personal biases.
Regardless, as Yong points out, we're left with further evidence - backed up by fMRI studies - that racial bias and racism are connected to social fear. Now I'm waiting for the studies that show whether taking anti-social anxiety med Xanax helps eradicate racial bias too.