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14 April 2010

A Birth Defect that Hinders Development of Racial Discrimination

Left, a representation of a juvenile White male affected by Williams syndrome. Right, a normal face. (BBC)

Probably many of us have noticed that people with strange views and strange tendencies also often look strange. You may have said about some such person, There's something wrong with him. There may be a sound instinct underlying such observations. It could very well be the case that a genetic problem underlies the strange appearance as well as the strange behavior that goes with it.
"More than 700 genetic syndromes affect facial traits," according to BBC science reporter Rebecca Morelle. "For some genetic conditions, facial differences can be very subtle.... "

A real example of Williams syndrome, less obvious than some. (Psychology Today)

Many of these genetically defective people therefore would pass for normal; the appearance of some person affected by Williams syndrome, for example, might  strike many as being within the normal range. How many peculiarities of physical appearance point toward a psychological peculiarity that hasn't been documented?

E.R. Jaensch put forth the theory that political unrest was rooted in genetic and other physical problems that produce defective instincts, what could be called a lack of common sense, in a portion of the population. Specifically Jaensch focused on mixed racial heritage and latent tuberculosis as physical conditions that often underlie subversive political tendencies. (A study by researchers at UC Davis has recently established a correlation between race-mixture and mental illness in the case of Mongoloid-Caucasoid crossings.)

The Jews, in Jaensch's view, constituted a source of social problems because they were an organized population of instinctually defective people, having their origin in a mixture of highly diverse and incompatible racial elements, yet retaining sufficient mental strengths to make them dangerous.

Similarly, researchers have found that children with Williams syndrome have defective instincts. While normal children exhibit preference for their own race at three years old, Williams syndrome children never develop this preference.

Might the lack of any tendency toward racial discrimination generally be due to some subtle organic defect?

Williams syndrome, in addition to the strange facial appearance and lack of racial instinct, is
also typically accompanied by poor muscle development, small teeth, heart and circulatory problems, hypercalcemia (which may or may not last into adulthood, and produces extreme irritability), and joint problems.

These defective individuals are not without some strengths, however. The Williams Syndrome Association says, "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.
" Imagine the source of trouble that a cohesive population of such people might present.

Absence of racial, but not gender, stereotyping in Williams syndrome children (Current Biology, 13 April 2010)

Andreia Santos1, 2, Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg1, and Christine Deruelle2

Stereotypes --  often implicit attributions to an individual based on group membership categories such as race, religion, age, gender, or nationality --  are ubiquitous in human interactions. Even three-year old children clearly prefer their own ethnic group and discriminate against individuals of different ethnicities[1]. While stereotypes may enable rapid behavioural decisions with incomplete information, such biases can lead to conflicts and discrimination, especially because stereotypes can be implicit and automatic [2], making an understanding of the origin of stereotypes an important scientific and socio-political topic. An important process invoked by out-groups is social fear [3]. A unique opportunity to study the contribution of this mechanism to stereotypes is afforded by individuals with the microdeletion disorder Williams syndrome (WS), in which social fear is absent, leading to an unusually friendly, high approachability behaviour, including towards strangers [4]. Here we show that children with WS lack racial stereotyping, though they retain gender stereotyping, compared to matched typically developing children. Our data indicate that mechanisms for the emergence of gender versus racial bias are neurogenetically dissociable. Specifically, because WS is associated with reduced social fear, our data support a role of social fear processing in the emergence of racial, but not gender, stereotyping.

1 Central Institute of Mental Health, University of Heidelberg/Medical Faculty Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany
2 Mediterranean Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, CNRS, Marseille, France

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