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Description: Early in life, greater exposure to diverse people can change the tendency to prefer one’s own social group. For instance, infants from racially diverse environments show less preference for their own-race (ingroup) over other-race (outgroup) faces than infants from racially homogeneous environments. Yet how social environment changes ingroup versus outgroup demarcation in infancy is unclear. A commonly held assumption is that early emerging ingroup preference is based on an affective process: feeling more comfortable with familiar ingroup than unfamiliar outgroup members. However, other processes may also underlie ingroup preference: Infants may attend more to ingroup than outgroup members and/or mirror the actions of ingroup over outgroup individuals. By aggregating 7- to 12-month-old infants’ electroencephalography (EEG) activity across three studies, we disambiguate these different processes in the EEG oscillations of preverbal infants according to social environment. White infants from more racially diverse neighborhoods exhibited greater frontal theta oscillation (an index of top-down attention) and more mu rhythm desynchronization (an index of motor system activation and potentially neural mirroring) to racial outgroup individuals than White infants from less racially diverse neighborhoods. Neighborhood racial demographics did not relate to White infants’ frontal alpha asymmetry (a measure of approach-withdrawal motivation) toward racial outgroup individuals. Racial minority infants showed no effects of neighborhood racial demographics in their neural responses to racial outgroup individuals. These results indicate that neural mechanisms that may underlie social bias and prejudices are related to neighborhood racial demographics in the first year of life.


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