LOS ANGELES (CBS Sacramento) – A study exploring racial bias finds that when asked to think about someone with a stereotypically black name, people tend to imagine someone who is bigger and more violent than someone with a stereotypical white name.
“I’ve never been so disgusted by my own data,” said lead author Colin Holbrook. “The amount that our study participants assumed based only on a name was remarkable. A character with a black-sounding name was assumed to be physically larger, more prone to aggression, and lower in status than a character with a white-sounding name.”
The researchers conducted a series of studies, involving over 1,500 people, reports Medical Express.
In one study involved mostly white participants from ages 18 to their mid-70s. They were picked from all over the United States and self-identifyed as slightly left of center politically.
They were read nearly identical vignettes, with the only difference , read one of two nearly identical vignettes. Only the names were different, with Jamal, DeShawn, or Darnell in one version, and Connor, Wyatt, or Garrett in the other.
Previous research has shown those names are most commonly associated with different ethnic groups.
They were asked to read the following:
[NAME] woke up Saturday morning and began his day by brushing his teeth and taking a shower. After eating breakfast, [NAME] watched TV for a while and talked on the phone. Then [NAME] went to a nearby store and bought some groceries. Once he had gotten home, [NAME] received a text message from a friend inviting him to go out later. That night, [NAME] went out to meet his friends at a bar. As he entered the crowded bar, he brushed against the shoulder of a man walking the other direction. The man turned, glared at [NAME], and angrily said “Watch where you’re going, a—hole!”
Then the participants were asked a series of questions about the individual who was named.
They envisioned characters with black-sounding names as larger than those with white-sounding names. Not only that, but the larger they pictured the black-sounding named person, the lower that person was believed to be in terms of financial success, social influence, and respect from their communities.
In another version of the study, volunteers read a story with one of the two types of names. A control group read the story with “neutral” names. The other groups read the same story, but with an important addition: a “success” scenario in which the character was a college graduate and business owner, or a “threat” scenario in which the character had been convicted of aggravated assault.
Then they were asked about their impressions of the character’s height, weight, build, social status, and aggressiveness, among other traits.
“In the ‘successful’ scenario, the white and black characters are similarly perceived,” Holbrook explaned. “And when the character is convicted of assault, they again have similar outcomes, no matter their name. But people imagine the neutral black character as similar in size to the white criminal character, and we know that this shift in size is a proxy for how violent and aggressive they implicitly perceive the person to be. It’s quite disturbing.”
The researchers say the results show how deeply racial stereotypes are ingrained in our mind’s eyes.
“I think our study participants, who were overall on the liberal end of the spectrum, would be dismayed to know this about themselves,” Holbrook said. “This study shows that, even among people who understand that racism is still very real, it’s important for them to acknowledge the possibility that they have not only prejudicial but really inaccurate stereotypes in their heads.”
The study is published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.