Blacks Seen as Darker During Tough Economic Times

By April Reese | June 9, 2014 3:16 pm

recession

Tough economic times aren’t just hard on the wallet, they’re hard on race relations, too, a new study suggests. Researchers at New York University found that when the economy tanks, whites see African Americans as “blacker.”

Most of us assume we’re accurate judges of race. But in recent years, researchers have demonstrated that a number of factors, ranging from political persuasion to social aspirations, can influence race perception.

The NYU researchers, Amy Krosch and David Amodio wanted to find out whether economic scarcity could also affect how we judge someone’s race. So they conducted a series of experiments to test the perceptions of non African-American female and male subjects.

Priming Paucity

In the first experiment, 285 white subjects completed a questionnaire about how they view economic competition between black and white Americans (for example, “When Blacks make economic gains, Whites lose out economically”). Then, the researchers showed the participants a series of 110 faces that ranged from 100 percent white to 100 percent black. The subjects had to identify whether each face was black or white. Subjects who strongly believed that whites suffer economic loss when blacks make economic gains identified more of the mixed-race faces as black than subjects who did not hold such views.

In the next experiment, the researchers repeated the face-morphing test, but this time they flashed various scarcity-related words on the screen before each face appeared. These “subliminal primes” also included neutral words (such as “fluffy” and “appetite”), or negative words that were unrelated to scarcity (such as “brutal” and “odious”). Subjects saw only one category of words prior to viewing the faces. The scarcity-primed participants were more likely to identify mixed-race faces as black than those who were shown the neutral or negative primes. In other words, the faces became blacker when linked to scarcity.

Scarcity and Bias

The true test, though, came when the researchers had the subjects role-play economic scarcity. The subjects were told to give $10 to a partner. In one scenario, they were told the $10 was out of a larger fund of $100 – evoking a feeling of scarcity – and in the control, they were told the $10 was not part of a larger fund. Then, while waiting for the partner to appear, the subjects were asked to look at a series of face pairs that had subtle variations in features and skin tone, and identify which face in each pair was black. Using those responses, the researchers created two composite face images, one representing a black person as seen under scarcity conditions and the other representing a black person in the control (non-scarcity) condition.

When the composite images were shown to a new group of white subjects who didn’t know about the previous test, they judged the face produced under scarcity as darker and more stereotypically black than the other composite.

faces scarcity race

In a final experiment, people placed in a scarcity scenario gave less money to faces perceived to be blacker.

Taken as a whole, the experiments suggests that people enduring tough economic times often discriminate without realizing it, the researchers said. “People typically assume that what they see is an accurate representation of the world, so if their initial perceptions of race are actually distorted by economic factors, people may not even realize the potential for bias,” says Krosch, a doctoral candidate in NYU’s Department of Psychology.

The study was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: psychology, race
  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Longmire

    Man by his nature is a member of a group, so when the group is threatened outsiders are shunned. If we all rapped our head around that concept then the current state of our world could at least be analyzed soberly.

  • Anunnakie

    We are not the same were different.We have the world all jumbled up trying to be the same.Some folks reason,some dont Some will kill some wont.Some are easily deceived and others see the issues and wont be led to foolishness.Man is not the top dog he perceives himself to be.We were altered our genes violated and mixed with the apes,they call them hominids to be polite.The downgrade continues as I speak,We are all the same We are not..Look closely at the age of death in the races,We are not the same,Chinese/have 10% more going on bigger heads.smaller bods,The ones who are missing,Were called Nethanderthal bigger all around body and head.They presented a problem Competition,Elimination of the Neanderthal problem solved.Man is a problem he isnt smart enough for his world overpopulated it polluted,it brought weapons of mass destruction.Let man fix his world and try to reason the clock is ticking

  • Buddy199

    People instinctively shun outsiders when they feel threatened. Why do you think 94% of blacks vote the black candidate vs. the white opponent?

  • Ilpalazzo

    Dumbest. Study. Ever.So is that why when times are good, black tend to see people with any money as ‘whiter’?

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