The innocent infants choose their playmates carefully and they are not immune from ‘in-group’ bias, favouring people from same ethnicity over others, a study has found.
Infants can take into account both race and social history (how a person treats someone else) when deciding which person would make a better playmate, said the study.
Babies also value fairness – whether or not someone equally distributes toys – unless they noticed that the experimenter unevenly distributed toys in a way that benefits a person of the same race as the infant, said the study.
“It’s surprising to see these pro-social traits of valuing fairness so early on, but at the same time, we’re also seeing that babies have self-motivated concerns too,” said Jessica Sommerville, an associate professor of psychology at University of Washington.
In an experiment, 80 white 15-month-old infants saw a fair and an unfair person distribute toys to a white and to an Asian recipient.
Half the babies saw the unfair experimenter give more to the Asian recipient; and the other half of babies saw the experimenter give more to the white recipient.
When it came time to decide a playmate, infants seemed more tolerant of unfairness when the white recipient benefited from it.
They picked the fair experimenter less often when the unfair experimenter gave more toys to the white recipient versus the Asian recipient, said the study.
“If all babies care about is fairness, then they would always pick the fair distributor, but we are also seeing that they are interested in consequences for their own group members,” Sommerville said.
The study appeared in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Magazine in Australia)