White Americans who believe that people shouldn't be judged by their skin color can still subconsciously exhibit racial bias, according to new research from a Northwestern University psychologist.
In one study, Professor Galen Bodenhausen found that even well-meaning whites look at identical facial expressions on African Americans and white Americans and see greater hostility in the African-American faces.
And, in another experiment, whites were more likely to describe a racially mixed face as African-American if it displayed a hostile expression.
Bodenhausen attributes these perceptions to a subconscious, or "implicit," bias that is not reflected in answers to direct questions about racial attitudes. "Together," he said, "these experiments suggest there is a kind of stereotypic association between hostility and African-American faces for individuals who possess this kind of implicit prejudice."
The two studies, which measured the responses of 24 white university students, do not necessarily demonstrate how common such implicit bias might be in the general population. But, says Bodenhausen, the studies are important because they provide insight into how racial stereotypes are perpetuated and the potential challenges of interracial communication.
"If you assume you're seeing hostility in another person's face when you're interacting with that person," Bodenhausen said, "it's going to affect the way you respond. It's going to affect the degree of warmth or coldness you will display to that person. And, of course, the individual will notice that treatment and respond to it."
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It's the type of thing most blacks have to learn to live with.