Political views may skew perception of skin tone, new study finds

Nov 24, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Political affinity could influence how some people view the skin tone of biracial political candidates, according to a new study from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, New York University and Tilburg University in The Netherlands.

The findings indicate that people perceive lighter skin tone to be more representative of a candidate with whom they share political ideology than darker skin tone.

The research was led by Eugene Caruso, assistant professor of behavioral science at Chicago Booth, with collaboration from Emily Balcetis, assistant professor of psychology at NYU and Nicole Mead, a postdoctoral fellow at Tilburg University. It was published in the latest issue of (December 1).

Caruso and his colleagues showed groups of undergraduate students a set of photos of that were taken during the 2008 or from his campaign Web site. The subjects were asked which images were most representative of the president, and then indicated their political beliefs.

While some of the photos were unaltered, the researchers digitally lightened or darkened Obama’s skin tone in others (unbeknownst to the research participants). The researchers report that self-described liberal students tended to judge lightened photos of President Obama as most representative of him, while self-described conservative students more frequently picked darkened photos.

The study also found that regardless of their political views, students who rated a lightened photo as most representative of President Obama before the 2008 presidential election were more likely to report having voted for him in the presidential election.

The findings suggest that people’s political beliefs can affect how light or dark they perceive someone to be. The authors are planning to explore whether liberal and conservative media outlets depict subtly different images of political candidates, and whether the specific images to which voters are exposed may influence voting behavior, Caruso said.

“Subtle differences in a person’s skin tone may affect other consequential decisions in which pictures are part of the evaluation process, such as who we hire for a job,” Caruso said.

The study suggests that discussion should not only concern how people perceive Blacks versus Whites, but also how perceptions of Blacks or biracial people vary within these groups, he said.

Much previous research has demonstrated that people tend to have more negative stereotypes of dark-skinned Blacks compared to light-skinned Blacks, according to Caruso. “Moreover, although the number of Blacks in public office has increased dramatically over the years, there is some evidence that dark-skinned Blacks are under-represented as elected officials relative to light-skinned Blacks.”

Provided by University of Chicago (news : web)

Explore further: Study shows readers absorb less information when reading on a Kindle

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Feeling bad at work can be a good thing

Aug 21, 2014

(Phys.org) —Research by the University of Liverpool suggests that, contrary to popular opinion, it can be good to feel bad at work, whilst feeling good in the workplace can also lead to negative outcomes.

User comments : 7

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

freethinking
1 / 5 (3) Nov 24, 2009
Stupid study warning. Who would have guessed that a liberal University would create a study which shows once again that Conservatives are racists and Liberals are not.

theonion
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 24, 2009
Sadly, it is not clear from this article how the study was manufactured, that is, if the researchers made any attempts at ensuring that the lightened photos did not impart any other connotations other than darker skin. From the article, it does not appear that there is anything "scientific" about this study... What a surprise!
bhiestand
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 24, 2009
Sadly, it is not clear from this article how the study was manufactured, that is, if the researchers made any attempts at ensuring that the lightened photos did not impart any other connotations other than darker skin. From the article, it does not appear that there is anything "scientific" about this study... What a surprise!

What in the world makes you think you can judge a scientific study by a news report about it? Surely you know that you can't begin to cast judgement without reading the study itself.

Since you're so quick to judge the scientific validity of a study, I'll assume you are yourself a scientist or researcher. I'm sure you have access to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and will look up the study on 1 December. Feel free to write the journal regarding the errors in their methodology, then come back and inform us here of your findings.
Birger
1 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2009
The attitudes we have towards other people are shaped during childhood and it is difficult to reprogram them as an adult. Furthermore, such attitudes can be sneaky, lurking below our own awareness. But this is not necessarily the same as racism, some propensity for xenophobia may be "hardwired" unless countered by our childhood experiences. It actually makes evolutionary sense to distrust those who appear "different" considering the high amount of physical conflict during the stone age (as we can see from injuries on skeletons). In that case, the best we can do may be to raise the new generations "immersed" with positive examples of people with different racial features, different dialects et al.
Myria83
5 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2009
@Birger:
You say that "It actually makes evolutionary sense to distrust those who appear 'different'"

You are right... However, the article doesn't specify the race of the respondents: we don't know how many of them were black and how many were white, so how can we infer a prejudice against "difference"? We can only guess that "whiteness" is preferred, but not by whom is preferred (by both black and white people, it seems)
Gammakozy
3 / 5 (2) Nov 25, 2009
Lighter skin tone appears to be universally preferred, even within coloured racial groups. So is this article suggesting that Democrats, unlike blacks, hispanics and essentially everybody else in the world, sees things differently. That would be an interesting and important finding, if true, as it would suggest a serious case of willful denial or deceptive test response. However, I suspect that just like the Global Warming Hoax that has been exposed in the last few days, the same fate will befall all of the contrived left-thinking inspired studies purporting to paint conservatives as lesser beings.

As for @Birger's question - I have heard from other sources that blacks were deliberately excluded from this study. Not sure what the motive was.
freethinking
1 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2009
According to studies done by liberal scientist (dont believe me do a query on physorg)
White males. Bad and racists.
Conserative white males. Stupid, bad, and racists.
Religious Conservative white males. Crazy, stupid, bad, and racist.

It is quite laughable when you see the pattern day in and day out (again search physorg, see if you can find one study that paints conservatives in a positive light). These studies are worthless other than to make liberal scientists happy about their predrawn conclusions.