But not everyone is convinced. Aliya Saperstein from the University of Oregon praised the study’s “clever research design” and said that it shows the Williams Syndrome children are clearly less biased than normal ones. That is interesting in itself, but Saperstein is sceptical that they lack racial bias entirely. In the PRAM-II test, Santos claims that children without any biases should make pro-white responses half of the time, but she showed that the Williams syndrome children did so 64% of the time. This wasn’t significantly different from a chance result but the estimate was based on a very small sample size. Given larger numbers, those extra fourteen percentage points might indicate an important difference.
Robert Livingston from Northwestern University agrees. He says, “I think that it’s problematic to make strong conclusions on the basis of null findings, particularly with a sample as small as 20 WS children.”
It’s also worth noting that the PRAM-II test doesn’t give children the option of a truly unbiased response. They can’t say that the story could fit either image equally – they can only give fewer pro-white answers. As Saperstein says, “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.”
Livingston also notes that when we’re talking about racial bias, there is a difference between stereotypes, which are based on our beliefs, and prejudices, which are based on our feelings and evaluations of other people. The Williams Syndrome children may not show prejudice, but Livingston says, “Very few if any people who do not show stereotypes.”
Regardless of whether the Williams Syndrome children lack racial bias altogether, it’s clear that they aren’t affected by it to the same extent as normal children. Santos’s results also suggest that racial and gender biases have different origins. The former is borne at least partly out of social fear while the latter has different roots.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Williams syndrome children show no racial stereotypes or social fear | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine