Wednesday, May 2, 2012

'Down' stereotypes automatic, study finds

In Flippity flop I wrote about how people make split-second judgments about children who have facial features associated with genetic syndromes.

A French study published last month in the journal PLoS One finds that photos of children with Down syndrome elicit less positive attitudes than photos of typically developing children -- particularly if the features are 'strongly typical' of the syndrome.

In addition to asking 165 adults to openly rate photos, the researchers gave participants implicit-association tests, which capture the strength with which certain groups of people are automatically, without conscious awareness, associated with positive or negative attributes.

They found positive explicit evaluations of children with Down syndrome can co-exist with negative associations at an unconscious level, revealing hidden stereotypes.

Given their findings, the researchers say we need to go beyond testing stated attitudes to estimate the true extent of stigmatization of children with Down syndrome.

The group of 165 participants included 55 young adult students, 55 non-student adults and 55 professional caregivers who work with people with intellectual disabilities. In each group of participants -- including that of the caregivers -- photos of children with Down syndrome were automatically associated with a negative trait.

However, while the groups of adult students and non-students were more likely to rate photos of children with strong Down syndrome facial features less positively than those with less distinct features, this stereotyping within the category of Down syndrome was not seen in professional caregivers. "This is consistent with the idea that relationships with intellectually disabled persons promote positive attitudes toward them," the researchers say.

Thank you to Amy Julia Becker for sharing the photo above of daughter Penny, who has Down syndrome, and her brother William. Amy is part of our BLOOM speaker series May 10.