Monday, August 26, 2013

Early experience shapes the amygdala’s sensitivity to race.

Here is a fascinating finding. Not surprising, I suppose, but Telzer et al. show that orphan human infants raised with exposure to only same-race faces (European or Asian) have heightened amygdala responses to out-group faces than those raised with exposure to same- and other-race faces. Later age of adoption is associated with greater biases to race.
In the current study, we investigated how complete infant deprivation to out-group race impacts behavioral and neural sensitivity to race. Although monkey models have successfully achieved complete face deprivation in early life, this is typically impossible in human studies. We overcame this barrier by examining youths with exclusively homogenous racial experience in early postnatal development. These were youths raised in orphanage care in either East Asia or Eastern Europe as infants and later adopted by American families. The use of international adoption bolsters confidence of infant exposure to race (e.g., to solely Asian faces or European faces). Participants completed an emotional matching task during functional MRI. Our findings show that deprivation to other-race faces in infancy disrupts recognition of emotion and results in heightened amygdala response to out-group faces. Greater early deprivation (i.e., later age of adoption) is associated with greater biases to race. These data demonstrate how early social deprivation to race shapes amygdala function later in life and provides support that early postnatal development may represent a sensitive period for race perception.

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