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Genetic Disorder Removes Racial Bias and Social Fear 319

Posted by samzenpus
from the all-you-need-is-love-and-different-genes dept.
People who suffer from a rare genetic disorder called Williams Syndrome have a complete lack of social fear. They experience no anxiety or concerns about meeting new people or being put into any social situation, and a new study by Andreia Santos suggests that they also don't have any racial bias. From the article: "Typically, children start overtly gravitating towards their own ethnic groups from the tender age of three. Groups of people from all over the globe and all sorts of cultures show these biases. Even autistic children, who can have severe difficulties with social relationships, show signs of racial stereotypes. But Santos says that the Williams syndrome kids are the first group of humans devoid of such racial bias, although, as we’ll see, not everyone agrees."


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Genetic Disorder Removes Racial Bias and Social Fear

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:48PM (#31848842)

    No, racism is normal now. Not being racist is a genetic disorder.

  • Re:Friendly people (Score:5, Informative)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:49PM (#31848860)

    Maybe you don't understand. Toddlers have racial biases. Even babies just a few months old will prefer to look at a picture of someone with the same skin color as them. It's built into the way our brain works. These kids don't have that at any age. They also don't have the subconscious biases that 99% of people have, even the people that are nice to everyone and would never say, do, or even think a racist thought.

  • Re:Friendly people (Score:5, Informative)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:55PM (#31848944) Journal
    Though, interestingly, the study also tested for sex-linked biases, on which the disorder has no effect.
  • Re:Why such terms? (Score:3, Informative)

    by netsavior (627338) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:07PM (#31849092)
    The social part of the disorder is a small piece of it. The genes that are deleted also cause problems with Elastin production, which leads to connective-tissue abnormalities and cardiovascular disease. In addition vision and auditory issues, as well as dental issues are very common.

    Also no social fear means they will happily sit on santa's lap or go for a car ride with the nice man who "lost his puppy" at the park.
  • Bias is instinctual (Score:5, Informative)

    by ArcCoyote (634356) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:14PM (#31849212)

    The fear or distrust of "same as us but not one of us" is common.

    Many species of social animals (mainly larger predators: wolves, lions, etc.. ) act threatened when confronted with a different pack, pride, colony, etc of their own kind... more so than by the presence of a different species (such as humans).

    There's a damn good reason for it too. The group recognizes that other "tribe" of us wants the exact same thing we need to survive.

  • Re:Why such terms? (Score:5, Informative)

    by netsavior (627338) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:17PM (#31849250)
    Williams Syndrome usually comes with a below average IQ, ALWAYS comes with connective tissue issues, including moderate to severe heart disease. It almost always comes with a reduced size, and different than "normal" facial features.

    oh yeah and there is some social stuff too :P
  • On-line racism test (Score:4, Informative)

    by rwa2 (4391) * on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:25PM (#31849348) Homepage Journal

    This is a really cool on-line rather objective test for determining what racial color biases you have: []

    This really really pisses off people who think they have no prejudice.

    *** Spoiler Alert ***
    To do well on the test (and get a neutral rating), you really have to accept the racial bias you have and actively prompt yourself to counter it.

  • Re:Why such terms? (Score:4, Informative)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:44PM (#31849642) Journal
    This [] has the messy details. Highlights include:

    "The majority of individuals with Williams syndrome have some type of heart or blood vessel problem. Typically, there is narrowing in the aorta (producing supravalvular aortic stenos is SVAS), or narrowing in the pulmonary arteries. There is a broad range in the degree of narrowing, ranging from trivial to severe (requiring surgical correction of the defect). Since there is an increased risk for development of blood vessel narrowing or high blood pressure over time, periodic monitoring of cardiac status is necessary. "

    "Most people with Williams syndrome have some degree of intellectual handicap. Young children with Williams syndrome often experience developmental delays; milestones such as walking, talking and toilet training are often achieved somewhat later than is considered normal. Distractibility is a common problem in mid-childhood, which appears to get better as the children get older. Older children and adults with Williams syndrome often demonstrate intellectual "strengths and weaknesses." There are some intellectual areas (such as speech, long term memory, and social skills) in which performance is quite strong, while other intellectual areas (such as fine motor and spatial relations) are significantly deficient."

    There are a number of other potentially nasty medical issues, as well as the personality features that make the sydrome interesting to researchers in human behavior, psychology, and neurology.

    As far as I know, the stuff specifically pertaining to "Racial bias" is completely harmless, and it is pretty fascinating that such a dramatic psychological effect can be caused by a single mutation. The "Lack of social fear" stuff isn't directly harmful; but I'm sure that "developmentally disabled child who loves and trusts everybody, and doesn't recognize social danger signals" goes badly from time to time.

    However, its the cardiac, circulatory, and cognitive issues that really make this one a serious disorder.
  • Re:Bad statistics (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lurker2288 (995635) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:55PM (#31849788)
    Do you actually understand the concept of statistical significance? From your use of the word 'insignificant' I doubt you're really understanding what the article is saying. Statistical significance is a different concept from what is typically meant by 'significance.'

    I'm probably oversimplifying a bit, but the error bars on the Williams bar in the figure is sufficiently large to include 50% ('pure chance'). This means that based on the number of children tested, the standard deviation around the estimated mean includes the chance value--therefore, we cannot say with any confidence that the 'true' mean differs from 50% in Williams children.

    In contrast, the error bar around the non-Williams children comes nowhere near 50%--that is, there is no reasonable way that resampling would produce a mean of 50%. Therefore the 'true mean' must be significantly different from 50%--and in this case, it is different in the direction of greater bias.
  • by Kreigaffe (765218) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @05:04PM (#31849958)

    That's completely ridiculous.

    Removing a word for a concept does not remove the concept. People have different skin colors. No amount of wishing will change that fact, nor the fact that we can recognize different skin colors.

    Teaching people to ignore the color of other's skin is dangerous. It's equatable to abstinence-only sex ed.

    Don't teach people that race doesn't exist. That's dumb. Teach that race does exist, but is ultimately irrelevant.

    And, yes, racial stereotypes ARE USEFUL. You meet a random person. They look different than you, and speak in a strange accent. Without the use of racial and cultural stereotypes it would not be possible to conclude where that person is from. There are physical differences between people who come from different areas, and by having a concept of, say, a stereotypical Israeli, or Brasilian, of both physical features and manner of speaking, you are able to determine where that stranger is from. That's just useful information. You can gain knowledge through racial stereotypes. You do not necessarily have to proceed from that point to where you're reaching conclusions about the character of that person based upon that information. It's just that last step there that we have a problem with.

  • by alan_dershowitz (586542) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @05:47PM (#31850532)

    Actually, tests have been done that check for exactly this. Young children consistently will identify with the an illustration of a person the same skin color of them over someone who has a similar body shape to them/their parents. "Race" is artificial but ethnicity is not. It comes down to kinship, if a person has a different skin color than you, they are very likely not related, and therefore a higher risk. This appears to be built-in.

  • Re:Bad statistics (Score:3, Informative)

    by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @05:54PM (#31850602) Homepage Journal

    I agree with your post, and thank you for pointing out what statistical significance is.

    Still, there is another interesting point to make.

    ``I'm probably oversimplifying a bit, but the error bars on the Williams bar in the figure is sufficiently large to include 50% ('pure chance'). This means that based on the number of children tested, the standard deviation around the estimated mean includes the chance value--therefore, we cannot say with any confidence that the 'true' mean differs from 50% in Williams children.''

    Exactly, but neither can we conclude that the true mean does _not_ differ from 50% in Williams children.

    In other words, if this is all there is to the study, we can conclude that non-Williams subjects are biased (at the probability level used to determine statistical significance), whereas Williams subjects may or may not be biased. That's a far cry from the absence of racial bias that the summary claims.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @06:46PM (#31851150)
    It's a good assumption to make if you're in a horrible white neighborhood, also. Actually, if you're out on the streets at 4 am in Detroit, you pretty much don't see anything except the occasional police cruiser. The place is dead. I've never been anywhere so depressing as Detroit at night.
  • Re:Why such terms? (Score:4, Informative)

    by netsavior (627338) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @10:52PM (#31853268)
    until the late 1990s it was diagnosed by facial features and behavior. There is a very simple genetic test for it now (it shows up on a FISH test). Due to being in multiple WS societies/clubs I am in contact with many different levels of functioning in people with WS. I know a professional, barred, practicing lawyer who (we are 99% sure) has WS. But there is a big problem with high functioning people getting a diagnosis. WS is still considered to be "mental retardation" even though not all cases result in a below average IQ, so a professional lawyer CANNOT get diagnosed or he risks his license. We have met several people whom a geneticist would Diagnose on sight for sure, just based on the facial structure and eyes (blue with white starburst) but it is not a great idea to get saddled with what amounts to a "retarded" diagnosis, when you are high functioning.

    also co-existance of Autism and WS is common, like 10-20% of subjects who have ws

"Most of us, when all is said and done, like what we like and make up reasons for it afterwards." -- Soren F. Petersen