Conservative vs Liberal View of Multiracial People

Conservatives More Likely than Liberals to Identify Mixed-Race Individuals as Black, NYU Study Finds

Conservatives are more likely than liberals to
identify mixed-race individuals as Black, according to a series of new
studies by researchers at New York University. Their findings, which
appear in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, suggest that there is a link between political ideology and racial categorization.

“A person’s race is often thought to be clear-cut and fixed,”
explains Amy Krosch, a doctoral student in New York University’s
Department of Psychology and the lead author of the paper. “However, our
research suggests that the perception of a person as Black or White is
related to one’s political views and beliefs about equality.”

The study may be downloaded here.

The paper’s other authors were: Leslie Berntsen, an NYU undergraduate
at the time of the study and now a graduate student at the University
of Southern California; David Amodio, an associate professor in NYU’s
Department of Psychology; John Jost, a professor in NYU’s Department of
Psychology; and Jay Van Bavel, an assistant professor in NYU’s
Department of Psychology.

Their findings also showed a link between nationality and racial
classification. The study’s U.S. subjects were more likely to identify
as Black mixed-race individuals labeled as Americans than they were
mixed-race individuals labeled as Canadians.

The study focused on the principle of hypodescent, which posits that
multi-racial individuals are categorized according to their most
socially subordinate group membership. This principle—“the one-drop
rule”—was applied in the U.S. from the antebellum period through the
Civil Rights Era in order to subjugate individuals with any non-White
heritage by denying them full rights and liberties under the law. It was
also used to send Japanese-Americans—some of whom were one-eighth
Japanese—to internment camps during World War II.

In the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology study, the
researchers explored the possibility of a connection between political
ideology and racial categorization of unknown individuals—and, if so,
what might explain this phenomenon.

To do so, they conducted three experiments, two of which included
only White American subjects; a third included a racially heterogeneous
panel of American subjects.

In the first experiment, White female and male subjects were shown a
series of computer-generated adult male faces that morphed real-world
Black and White faces at varying percentages. Subjects were instructed
to categorize each of the 110 faces they saw as either “Black” or
“White.” Subjects’ ideology was measured using an established
seven-point, self-reported scale (1=extremely liberal to 7=extremely

Here, the results showed a link between political ideology and
hypodescent: subjects who self-identified as political conservatives
were more likely to identify the faces seen in the experiment as Black
than were those who self-identified as liberals.

In a second experiment, the researchers explored reasons to explain
this finding. Previous studies have shown that members of racial
minority groups (e.g., Blacks and Asians) were just as likely as Whites
to apply the principle of hypodescent in making racial judgments. This
suggests that racial categorization is not simply a perspective
exhibited by Whites; instead, it would appear to be more a reflection of
system-justifying biases. That is, conservatives of any race may
maintain traditional boundaries associated with the hierarchical social
order—and, as a result, they categorize multi-racial individuals
according to the most socially subordinate group membership.

The researchers repeated the experiment with a new sample, seeking to
explain why conservatives are more likely to apply the principle of
hypodescent. The sample of 71 subjects was overwhelmingly white (54),
but was also composed of bi- or multi-racial, Asian, South Asian,
Latino, and Native American subjects.

In addition to measuring political ideology in this experiment, the
researchers also sought to determine if their initial findings might be
the result of a system-justifying bias. To do so, they gauged the
subjects’ views by administering a Social Dominance Orientation scale,
which includes two factors: group-based dominance (“If certain groups
stayed in their place, we would have fewer problems”) and opposition to
equality (“We should do what we can to equalize conditions for groups”).
This metric has been used in earlier studies to measure racial

Their results showed that, indeed, among conservatives, “opposition
to equality” was a powerful predictor in the categorization of
mixed-race faces as Black rather than White. However, this was not the
case for “group-based dominance.” “These results suggest that
conservatives may be categorizing mixed-race faces as Black to justify
racial divisions that are part of the historical legacy of the social
system in the United States,” the researchers wrote.

They added that while the findings in this experiment were
statistically significant for its White subjects, the sample size for
non-White subjects was too small to draw any meaningful conclusions.

But these results left open another question: If hypodescent among
conservatives is motivated by a justification of racial divisions that
are part of the United States’ legacy, then such judgments should be
solely directed toward Americans. To test this, the researchers
conducted another experiment in which a third set of American subjects
(all White) were asked to make racial judgments of the faces they
viewed. In this experiment, unlike the previous two, in some conditions
the study’s subjects were told certain faces were “American” and in
others they were informed faces were “Canadian.” These labels of
nationality were randomized—facial images labeled as “American” to some
of the study’s subjects were billed as “Canadian” to others.

Here they found self-identified conservatives were more likely than
liberals to identify mixed-race “American” faces as Black than as
White—a finding consistent with the other experiments. However, there
was no relationship between political ideology and racial categorization
for “Canadian” faces.

“It seems reasonable to conclude on the basis of these results that
bias in the process of racial categorization may reflect, among other
things, the motivation to defend and uphold traditional racial divisions
that are part of the historical legacy of the United States,” the
researchers concluded. “Conservatives exhibit stronger system
justification tendencies in general and are presumably more sensitive
than liberals to challenges directed at the legitimacy or stability of
the social order, with its attendant degree of racial inequality.”

“Although it may be tempting to conclude political ideology leads to
biases in racial categorization, the causal relationship is still open
for debate,” cautioned Van Bavel.

The lead author was supported by a National Science Foundation
Graduate Research Fellowship (DGE-0813964) and the research was
supported by a grant from NYU’s College of Arts and Science Dean’s
Undergraduate Research Fund.
Source: NYU

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