I came across a fascinating study the other day (hat tip to Ed Brayton over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars). There has been a good deal of research suggesting that racism has a biological element–several studies show the amygdala lighting up in reaction when a person of a different race appeared, for example. However…
“In a paper that will be published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Eva Telzer of UCLA and three other researchers report that they’ve performed these amygdala studies–which had previously been done on adults–on children. And they found something interesting: the racial sensitivity of the amygdala doesn’t kick in until around age 14.
What’s more: once it kicks in, it doesn’t kick in equally for everybody. The more racially diverse your peer group, the less strong the amygdala effect. At really high levels of diversity, the effect disappeared entirely. The authors of the study write that “these findings suggest that neural biases to race are not innate and that race is a social construction, learned over time.”
The upshot of the study, at least as I understood it, was that humans do have strong “tribal” instincts, but the preference for ones own tribe is not based on any particular characteristic. It’s enough to be different–the nature of the difference is irrelevant. That’s the bad news. The good news is that, with sufficient diversity while we’re young, the differences that divide us, that bring out our tribal instincts, can be overcome.
That “nature versus nurture” argument just gets more and more complicated….