Race attributions and clothing

It’s a commonplace that clothing style affects our attributions of gender. But now there’s evidence that it affects our race attributions as well.

It is commonly believed that race is perceived through another’s facial features, such as skin color. In the present research, we demonstrate that cues to social status that often surround a face systematically change the perception of its race. Participants categorized the race of faces that varied along White–Black morph continua and that were presented with high-status or low-status attire. Low-status attire increased the likelihood of categorization as Black, whereas high-status attire increased the likelihood of categorization as White; and this influence grew stronger as race became more ambiguous (Experiment 1). When faces with high-status attire were categorized as Black or faces with low-status attire were categorized as White, participants’ hand movements nevertheless revealed a simultaneous attraction to select the other race-category response (stereotypically tied to the status cue) before arriving at a final categorization. Further, this attraction effect grew as race became more ambiguous (Experiment 2). Computational simulations then demonstrated that these effects may be accounted for by a neurally plausible person categorization system, in which contextual cues come to trigger stereotypes that in turn influence race perception. Together, the findings show how stereotypes interact with physical cues to shape person categorization, and suggest that social and contextual factors guide the perception of race.

For the full article, go here.
(Thanks, N!)

3 thoughts on “Race attributions and clothing

  1. I wonder who decided what counts as ‘high status’ and ‘low status’ attire and how they guaranteed that they weren’t already racially stereotyping when they did so – i.e. picking more typically african-american clothes to count as ‘low status’ (and vice versa), which would certainly explain the results. In other words, surely there is stereotyping involved here but I do wonder how they know where along the chain it comes in.

  2. Whites are in the minority in my city, and encountering black people in professional contexts is not uncommon; not just pastors, but judges, university officials, senior management people, and so on. I wonder if the results would be the same if the tests were given to students at a mixed race university.

    Relatedly, it seems to me such data do provide evidence that diversifying the faculty is very important, even if only indirectly.

Comments are closed.