Our racial identity affects who we see

A study published in the current issue of Psychological Science finds that a person's racial identity influences who he or she sees. The authors asked biracial participants (one Black and one White parent) to think about their Black parent's ethnicity. After, they could spot the presence or lack of a Black face in a crowd of White faces with the same speed and accuracy as a monoracial Black person. The same held true when asked to think of their White parent. Although all detected Black faces faster than white faces, biracial students were affected by thinking about one half of their racial identity and then behaved as if they were monoracial.

Black, white, and biracial participants performed the visual search task by looking at Black and White faces on a computer screen. To prep the biracial individuals, the participants were asked to write about their mother or father's ethnicity. Black-primed and White-primed biracial individuals differed significantly in the searches, displaying the effects of the manipulation. "These findings demonstrate that visual perception is malleable to top-down influences, such as orientation provided by one's racial group membership," the authors conclude.

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This study is published in the May issue of Psychological Science. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article please contact journalnews@bos.blackwellpublishing.net

The flagship journal of the Association for Psychological Science (previously the American Psychological Society), Psychological Science publishes authoritative articles of interest across all of psychological science, including brain and behavior, clinical science, cognition, learning and memory, social psychology, and developmental psychology.

Authors Joan Y. Chiao, Hannah E. Heck, and Ken Nakayama are at Harvard University. Nalini Ambady is at Tufts University.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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