Stereotypes — often implicit attributions to an individual based on group membership categories such as race, religion, age, gender, or nationality — are ubiquitous in human interactions. Even three-year old children clearly prefer their own ethnic group and discriminate against individuals of different ethnicities. While stereotypes may enable rapid behavioural decisions with incomplete information, such biases can lead to conflicts and discrimination, especially because stereotypes can be implicit and automatic, making an understanding of the origin of stereotypes an important scientific and socio-political topic.
An important process invoked by out-groups is social fear. A unique opportunity to study the contribution of this mechanism to stereotypes is afforded by individuals with the microdeletion disorder Williams syndrome (WS), in which social fear is absent, leading to an unusually friendly, high approachability behaviour, including towards strangers. Here we show that children with WS lack racial stereotyping, though they retain gender stereotyping, compared to matched typically developing children.
Our data indicate that mechanisms for the emergence of gender versus racial bias are neurogenetically dissociable. Specifically, because WS is associated with reduced social fear, our data support a role of social fear processing in the emergence of racial, but not gender, stereotyping.
I don’t know anywhere near enough about the subject to render an informed opinion, but the research seemed to come from a credible source (and was linked to in a list that was quoted by Prof. Adam Kolber at Neuroethics & Law Blog), so I thought I’d pass along a pointer.