Segregating begins at school
How Our Children Form Biases

How do children who have academic difficulties in school, and who have not been screened or tested to specifically pinpoint what is the cause of their difficulty in reading to learn feel on a day-to-day basis, and how do they look at themselves as human beings and their sense of who they are.

Over a period of time, left unattended - as a child's academic performance begins to deteriorate, they believe, that they are not competent and can never achieve academically, and this belief eventually tricks their brain into thinking that scholastic failure is indeed a part of their academic destiny.

When a child who is not doing scholastically well in school, is told by his parents that all he has to do is work hard, and that performance would improve, what really happens is that the child gets an illusionary feeling that everything is all right. However, the sad part is that while he is made to feel that everything will be all right, based on well intended advice - when he goes to school he cannot see the performance, and cannot observe his output which is normally reflected in the grading system.

Experiencing this illusion, that all will be well from his house, while simultaneously experiencing the disillusion of watching his peers and friends get better marks and perform better than him, leads to a very high degree of anxiety and stress level, which eventually further impacts on the already deteriorating academic performance.

This situation creates a conflict for the brain, precisely because the child gets a conflicting signal at home which is a different location, and watches something very different in school, where unfortunately how good you are is judged by a highly competitive as well as a meritocratic system.

What a considerable number of parents in India do not realise is that human or in this case children’s brains don’t like conflicts, and that their child's brain will try to solve the conflict by using the sensory information available. Since we tend to put more stock in what we see, the child's brain will start creating the illusion that there is something wrong with him, because while his parents are reinforcing the fact that all he has to do is work hard, and that while he is putting in all the effort that is needed to study, why is it that the final result is so low.

We at the Dyslexia Association of India™ believe very strongly, and it is a personal opinion that we carry that the illusion that is generated at home, by the parents ignoring the problem, is very strong and some of its effects are remarkable.

We feel that the child's brain down regulates its ability, knowing that it has to compete with children who are performing much better than him, and this leads to a form of a feeling of discrimination, which acts as a closed cycle of anxiety and the child not only - does not perform adequately, but also begins to relate socially in a different manner to his peers.

The social pressure of denial in India, specially related to children and their academic performance is so substantial that in our attempt to disagree with the fact that there is a neurological basis for the lack of academic excellence, parents begin to push all the wrong buttons.

Being evolutionary and highly intelligent beings, we are capable of making split-second decisions about others – whether we like them or not, whether we would trust them or not, whether they are similar to us or not, and by extension whether they belong to the same group as us or not.

Such decisions are also taken in the school and in the classroom, and they form the basis of future behaviour for children, and also form the basis of how to a certain extent we begin to bias our behavior towards those who are performing below our mark levels.

In the same manner the way that we tend to trust people more who we perceive to be physically similar to us, children's brain perceive similarity in academic traits. If we understand this to be true then we will also understand that our brain constantly computes the perceived physical or psychological similarity between self and others to gauge our behavior.

In such a situation, we would like the parents to sit down for a moment and reflect on the fact that what other children - who are consistently achieving better must be feeling when, they must be comparing themselves to - the academically lower achieving peers? Would those children who are performing better - perceive the child who is not performing adequately well as similar to them - or below them?

In an experiment conducted recently a significant number of toppers were put through a psychological task where there were asked questions, and one of the questions asked of them was, how do you perceive your classmates who obtain less marks then you.

It may come as a surprise to most parents but almost 85% of the children responded by ticking on the option that said, “inferior to me”.

Ideally we would not have liked to ask these children very explicitly, whether they perceived the other children as being below their level, as we could easily anticipate their answers, but it is important to takeaway from this - the reality of life that scholastic performance can form the basis, of how children perceive each other and how they relate to each other, and who they want to be associated with.

We can now measure how fast individuals are categorizing their peers when they are paired with high or low performers.

If children hold negative implicit attitudes towards below average academically performing peers they build strong associations between unpleasant concepts and academically low performing children.

As a result, they are faster at categorizing the child with low marks with unpleasant concepts, and not to be included in their friend circle. It should therefore come as no surprise that children in school process perceptual information and aspects of themselves as being more worthwhile if they perform better academically, as scholastic performance is the only indicator of ‘being better’ in a school environment.

One basic function that underlies many of our social interactions is computing the perceived physical or psychological similarity between others and ourselves.

So we conducted another small experiment. We asked a group of children to imagine that they were coming first. We took the children to an actual school, and had the teacher call out their names, and also call out their marks, and indicate that these children had come either 1st or in the top 5 of the class. The result was amazing. The children who were in real life performing below par academically were totally different individuals when they were recognised as being efficient and intelligent.

So by changing how children represent themselves internally, we at the Dyslexia Association of India™ probably allowed them to experience others as being more similar to them. This in turn resulted in a reduction in their negative implicit biases.

In other words, the integration of different sensory signals can allow the brain to update its model of the body and cause children to change their attitudes about others and themselves.

Often formed at an early age, negative attitudes are thought to remain relatively stable throughout adulthood.

We believe and this is our personal belief that implicit social biases do not normally change. However if we take steps to better manage our children and proactively take the initiative to help them as soon as we observe or sense that there is a problem in academics, converging evidence show us that we can positively alter any developing negative bias by exploiting the way the brain integrates sensory information from our bodies. These findings also show us how self-identity is constructed from school itself and how the boundaries between what is considered the core and inner circle or group and what is considered to be outer circle group where our associations are concerned might be altered.

From a equality and social point of view, our findings can help parents understand how to approach their children’s school based scholastic and even social phenomena and inequality and discrimination. There is no simple cure for an academic delay or a Learning Disability, but with the increased accessibility of options to discover and remediate children – parents coming out in the open and helping their children by approaching competent professionals to analyze and pin point the cause of the learning disabilities can allow their children to experience the world from the perspective of someone different from themselves.

This feeling of being a different from another child can be an extremely distressing feeling and but opening an avenue for your child to experience school life with confidence and the knowledge that he can also achieve might be a small but important step towards academic and social integration.

Parents need to take the time to make the investment to have their child checked and screened very carefully and as early as possible for any Learning Disability so that they can provide an option for their child to also succeed academically. Succeeding academically is not a precursor to being a successful person or an unsuccessful person. Succeeding Academically is a strong motivator to instill self-confidence in a child. Additionally as India moves forward towards a meritocratic society, the future we provide to our children will be based on the percepts of cognitive competence. For cognitive competence how children perform scholastically plays an important role.

If you notice that your child is not performing as per grade level and there is the slightest hint of academic difficulties kindly contact the Dyslexia Association of India™ and our professionals will guide you correctly and appropriately how to proceed.

To make an appointment with the DAI™ please call us on +91 – 8826022886 or e mail us for an appointment on as at the Dyslexia Association of India™ we have a strict policy to comprehensively check and diagnose only one child per day.

Any payment that is made for your appointment at the DAI™ qualifies for exemption from Income Tax (IT) and parents are provided a Section 80G receipt so that they can use it when filing their Income Tax Returns.

* Opinions and information expressed by the DAI™ are equivocal and personal to the researchers and specific to the organization.