Biases influence how multiracial individuals are categorized

Biases influence how multiracial individuals are categorized
Sample morphed multiracial faces from the racial-categorization task. Credit: Ho et al.

Throughout U.S. history, individuals who were part-white and part-black were typically treated as black, a tendency that has been called the "one-drop rule."

New University of Michigan research, published in Psychological Science, demonstrates that this bias, also known as hypodescent, persists in the U.S., and is driven in part by anti-black attitudes and beliefs about the genetic basis of .

"Our research offers a window into the psychological mechanisms that govern how we categorize others when we are confronted with individuals who blend identities differing in social status," said Arnold Ho, U-M assistant professor of psychology and organizational studies.

In the first of two studies, Ho and U-M colleagues Steven Roberts and Susan Gelman surveyed nearly 150 Americans about race, asking respondents about their feelings toward both African-Americans and whites, and about their beliefs concerning whether are biologically determined.

The researchers also asked survey respondents to categorize multiracials (as relatively black or white, or equally black and white), and found that respondents who believed that racial categories are biologically determined and had negative feelings about African-Americans, were most likely to believe that black-white multiracials are primarily black.

The second study, involving 121 white American participants, was designed to manipulate whether individuals think about race as biologically determined. This study also measured feelings toward African-Americans and whites, and asked participants to categorize 20 racially ambiguous faces as black, black-white multiracial, or white. Participants who were exposed to the idea that race can be biologically determined, and who harbored anti-black biases, were more likely to categorize faces as black, Ho said.

"Multiracial make up a rapidly growing population, and they often identify in ways that do not reflect traditional '' or 'white' categories," said Roberts, a U-M doctoral candidate in psychology. "However, our data show that biological concepts of race and intergroup biases prevent people from thinking about race more flexibly."

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More information: "Essentialism and Racial Bias Jointly Contribute to the Categorization of Multiracial Individuals" Psychological Science 0956797615596436, first published on September 1, 2015 DOI: 10.1177/0956797615596436
Journal information: Psychological Science

Citation: Biases influence how multiracial individuals are categorized (2015, September 3) retrieved 17 October 2019 from
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Sep 04, 2015
Numerous racially significant traits are controlled genetically, but a very strong racial discrimination in the USA leads many researchers and those opposed to racial discrimination to deny this. Those who wish to prove racial differences, usually by categorising one race as inferior, embrace genetic differences.

This leads to misreporting and inaccuracies on both sides.

The reality is that some differences, most if not all of which are neutral with regard to superiority, are genetically mediated. Skin and hair colour and facial morphology are genetically mediated and show consistent differences.

If there is no genetic control then the Bushman, for instance, should occasionally produce a tall white blond haired blue eyed individual. This has never happened.

Science should not allow itself to be so liberally skewed by politics or the readiness for the American public to discriminate.

The results apply only to American culture. Europeans are unlikely to be so biased.

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