This research program examines the origins, consequences, and significance of appearance-based stereotypes. One goal is to understand the cognitive mechanisms underlying the development of the universal preferences shown by infants, children, and adults for attractive faces. Why do even young infants prefer to look at attractive rather than unattractive faces and when do stereotypical expectations become attached to these visual preferences? By what processes do infants come to associate attractiveness with positive attributes and to associate unattractiveness with negative attributes? Given infants as young as 12 months of age display differential treatment of attractive and unattractive individuals they may have some primitive knowledge of appearance-based stereotypes much earlier than previously assumed. A second goal of the research is to form a better understanding of the consequences of appearance- based stereotypes. How do children behave toward others based on appearance? Do non-prototypical faces elicit negative affect from perceivers and, if so, how might this lead to stigmatization? What are the social, physical, and mental health risks associated with appearance-based stereotypes? Because the intent of this research is to provide a full understanding of the mechanisms underlying the development of preferences, attitudes, and stereotypes based on facial appearance, a multi- method, converging evidence approach, beginning in infancy is required. This project includes standard behavioral measures widely used in the developmental literature including infant looking behavior with physiological measures (EEG, ERP, &EMG). Physiological data (e.g. EEG recorded brain activity) will be correlated with a behavioral response and/or a measure of attitudes. The ultimate goal of this research will be to ameliorate the negative consequences associated with appearance-based stereotypes.
Rudimentary stereotypes are the result of three innate information-processing mechanisms: Cognitive averaging, categorization, and statistical learning. We propose a multi-component model of development in which infants bootstrap simple preferences and associations into complex beliefs and attitudes.
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