On the ideology of Hypodescent: Political Conservatism Predicts Categorization of Racially Ambiguous Faces as Black

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2013-05-27 01:38Z by Steven

On the ideology of Hypodescent: Political Conservatism Predicts Categorization of Racially Ambiguous Faces as Black

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
In Press (May 2013)
32 pages

Amy R. Krosch
Department of Psychology
New York University

Leslie Berntsen
University of Southern California

David M. Amodio, Associate Professor of Psychology and Neural Science
New York University

John T. Jost, Professor of Psychology and Politics
New York University

Jay J. Van Bavel, Assistant Professor of Psychology
New York University

According to the principle of hypodescent, multiracial individuals are categorized according to their most socially subordinate group membership. We investigated whether the tendency to apply this principle is related to political ideology. In three studies, participants categorized a series of morphed faces that varied in terms of racial ambiguity. In each study, self-reported conservatism (vs. liberalism) was associated with the tendency to categorize ambiguous faces as Black. Consistent with the notion that system justification motivation helps to explain ideological differences in racial categorization, the association between conservatism and hypodescent was mediated by individual differences in opposition to equality (Study 2) and was stronger when U.S. participants categorized American than Canadian faces (Study 3). We discuss ways in which the categorization of racially ambiguous individuals in terms of their most subordinate racial group may exacerbate inequality and vulnerability to discrimination.

Barack Obama (2004) jokingly describes his mother as “White as milk,” but the fact is that he is seen as the United States’ first Black president. Following the repeal of anti-miscegenation laws and the gradual normalizing of interracial relationships, the United States of America has become an increasingly multiracial society, with a 32% increase in the number of citizens identifying as more than one race over the last decade (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). Nevertheless, monoracial labels are frequently applied to multiracial individuals, and “White” is rarely applied to persons of mixed racial heritage (Hirschfeld, 1995).

The tendency to categorize multiracial individuals according to their most socially subordinate racial group membership reflects the principle of hypodescent, which is closely associated with the notorious “one drop rule” in American history (Banks & Eberhardt, 1998; Hollinger, 2003). From the earliest days of American slavery through the Civil Rights Era, this principle was formally employed to subjugate individuals with any non-White heritage by denying them full rights and liberties under the law. For instance, individuals who had lived in the United States for years but were one-quarter or even one-eighth Japanese were forced to live in internment camps during World War II (Werner, 2000).

Social psychological research reveals that the principle of hypodescent characterizes racial categorization even today. When research participants are presented with images of Black/White biracial targets, they are more likely to classify them as Black than White (e.g., Halberstadt, Sherman, & Sherman, 2011; Ho, Sidanius, Levin, & Banaji, 2011; Peery & Bodenhausen, 2008). Furthermore, it appears to take fewer minority characteristics (e.g., facial features or ancestors) to be judged as “Black,” compared to the proportion of majority characteristics it takes to be judged as “White” (Ho et al., 2011)…

…In this article, we propose that biased racial categorization may also be related to ideological motives. Prior research has indicated that race perception and categorization may be influenced by a number of motives, including social identification (Knowles & Peng, 2005) and biological essentialism (Plaks, Malahy, Sedlins, & Shoda, 2012). Furthermore, Caruso, Mead, and Balcetis (2009) found that political conservatives were more likely to believe that a darkened photo of Barack Obama represented his actual appearance, as compared with liberals and moderates. These results are broadly consistent with public opinion data revealing that Republicans are more likely than Democrats and Independents to state that President Obama is Black rather than biracial (Pew Research Center, 2011). In the current research, we explored whether liberals and conservatives would differ in their categorization of racially ambiguous individuals in a nonpolitical context and examined potential psychological mediators of this proposed relationship. More specifically, we conducted three studies to investigate the hypothesis that there would be ideological differences in biased racial categorization…

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