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Genetic Disorder Removes Racial Bias and Social Fear 319

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

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:57PM (#31848962)

    "Birds of a feather flock together"

    It's not only humans that show preference, it's hard-wired into every living thing with a brain. Fortunately for us, our brains are so developed that we can override this once vital but now irrelevant feature. Well at least some of us can.

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

    by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:00PM (#31849000)
    My daughter has Williams Syndrome. She is 3 and has monthly EKGs, is on a calorie intense diet (because of her extremely small and underweight size). She also has severe dental problems.
    all that being said, she has perfect pitch (can emulate any sound (within reason) she wants to even without hearing it right before (she can pull sounds up from long term memory). She also has a measurably more sensitive sense of hearing (i.e. you can whisper in the other room and she will hear it). She is different, and markedly so, but I cannot say that this is the direction in which all human evolution will flow.

    This is a spontaneous mutation meaning it is not necessarily passed down from parents, although people with WS are 50% likely to pass it on to each child. It is a partial genetic deletion.

    People with WS tend to have Elvish or Pixie features. The disorder was formerly referred to as Pixieism, and is thought (quite convincingly) to be the origin of that type of folklore: Whimsical people who are extremely talented in music, are not socially afraid of anyone and tend to have a "cocktail party personality" in that they can speak to you for hours and not actually get into an "in-depth" conversation.

    My daughter may not have racial bias, but she also does not have stranger-danger... would gladly hug the nice homeless man who is yelling at god and drinking a paper bag.
  • Re:Friendly people (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fëanáro ( 130986 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:01PM (#31849018)

    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.

    Is that actually nature or nurture?
    If an orphan baby is adopted by parents from a different race, and is surrounded by people of that race, how would he even know what his "own" race is? As long as you keep him away from mirrors, he would not even be able to tell that his face looks different, and althought he could see that he has a different skin color than everyone else, as a toddler he would also have different size and proportions, a far greater difference.

    Has anyone tested this?

  • Fascinating (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hortensia Patel ( 101296 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:10PM (#31849132)

    If you're intrigued by this sort of thing, there's a fantastic SF short by Ted Chiang [] called "Liking What You See: A Documentary". It's about the consequences and ethics of suppressing a person's ability to recognise (and thus be biased by) physical attractiveness. One of the best things I've ever read.

    It's collected in his "Stories of Your Life and Others".

  • by elucido ( 870205 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:23PM (#31849328)

    When I was a kid MOST of my friends were of different races so I never learned to feel any sort of bias on that level. But I learned the difference between the types of kids who would bully other kids and the type of kids who didn't and I saw the bullies as "them".

  • Languages (Score:2, Interesting)

    by aBaldrich ( 1692238 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:33PM (#31849494)
    First, this is no news, I'm sure Wikipedia's article already says this, and more I have a friend with William's Syndrome. She is really gifted in languages: I am 18, and consider myself above average with 5 languages. She speaks 9, and now she's learning Russian.
  • by elucido ( 870205 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:43PM (#31849618)

    It makes sense if birds of a feather flock together but not all dogs form packs based around the color of their fur. There always will be groups but groups form for a variety of reasons. The only reason race is so popular is because of American culture teaching young people and the whole world to believe in race.

    What would happen if there were no word for race is, you'd have some kids who would be considered "uglier" than some others, and these "ugly" kids would form bonds with other kids considered "ugly". This would be the logical conclusion if race were removed.

    So you'd have the fat kid of one race becoming friends with the skinny kid of another race, while the jocks bully them both. This is what would happen if race did not have a component. With race in the picture now the fat kid and the skinny kid of different races who are both considered ugly by the normal majority would never be able to form a connection because they are of difference races. So keeping the idea of race alive only really benefits the jocks, the cheer leaders, the bullies and all the sort of people that the majority of nerds, dorks and geeks hated in school. It also keeps the nerds, dorks, and geeks from different races from forming connections and defending themselves against the masses.

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

    by david_thornley ( 598059 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @05:15PM (#31850138)

    How do babies a few months old know what their skin color is? At that age, they're probably waving their hands and arms in front of their faces, but haven't figured out they're part of them. Could it be that they react to their parents' skin color rather than their own?

  • by sckeener ( 137243 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @05:39PM (#31850426)

    What would happen if there were no word for race is, you'd have some kids who would be considered "uglier" than some others, and these "ugly" kids would form bonds with other kids considered "ugly". This would be the logical conclusion if race were removed.

    Actually if we didn't have the word race, we'd just have France's problem of trying to prove racial bias without using the word.

    Removing words will not solve the problem. It just makes it harder to talk about it.

  • Re:Friendly people (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @06:48PM (#31851188)

    Racial bias is not possible in babies/small children. 1: Race is a social construct, and until they have been socialized, children cannot possibly have a racial bias. 2: What they are calling "racial bias" is preference for what they are used to. Children have no concept of self (and therefore a real and significant "other") until they are well past the age that they have been socialized to a particular group of people (family and extremely close family friends) the majority of the time. There is no wonder then that a child will gravitate toward what it is used to first merely as a reaction to what is unrecognized. Take a group of those same three-year-olds and put them in a preschool setting. Guaranteed they will form their own cliques at first, but if prodded to will begin to play with everyone relatively equally at some point. This isn't overcoming racial bias, its overcoming shy and awkward in the face of new people. 3: What theories like these continue to do is provide fodder for the "race is genetic" argument which has been dis-proven time and again.

  • Re:Friendly people (Score:2, Interesting)

    by flyneye ( 84093 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @06:59PM (#31851314) Homepage

    I think most mistakenly say racism (think KKK) when they speak of culturalism . Most people have nothing against black people for example, who also wince at the thought of, if you will pardon the term for the sake of conversation, niggers. The difference is denoted by cultural markers such as "dew rags, pants half down the ass, gang signing, rap music rattling the trunks of half painted lowriders a couple decades old, etc.
              The same could be said of any "races" sub or pop culture that produces negative results. Inadequacies in education over decades and generations, mixed with "political correctness" for political gain and just plain ignorance pushed by mass media and other enemies of the general population have muddied meanings till communication of ideas like these are lumped under the singularity "racism".
              I believe most races of people can live together peacefully and still don't want "niggers,whiggers, beaners, slopes, ragheads'' and other subculturally embracing groups moving in next door.
            I believe historically most of civilization looks to invite like minded individuals into the fold while the deviants with physical markers and philosophical differences that represent opposition are excluded. You are never going to get rid of that. So rather than empower the Hillary Clintons, Jesse Jacksons ,Louis Farrakhans and Bin Ladens of the world who profit and rule by ignorant masses enabling.
                On the other hand Williams syndrome sufferers should probably be kept from wandering into "the hood", Klan meetings or the Democratic National Committee.

  • Re:Why such terms? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @10:41PM (#31853200)
    it is not a "terrible disorder" as people who are born with it usually (with first world modern medicine) live normal lifespan, and usually (with first world society) can have meaningful jobs and close to normal lives.

    The gifts my daughter has because of her Williams Syndrome are many... but it is not all rainbows and unicorns either.

    what is interesting from a science standpoint is that a simple deletion of some 26 genes of the 7th chromosome can result in extreme, but uniform social difference from neurotypical people. Who would have guessed that a simple gene in charge of elastin would also cause people to mistrust each other, as the deletion causes increased social activity in near 100% of patients.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.