An Exploration of Relationships Between Perceptual and Cognitive Racial Biases




Perception, Cognition, Racial Bias, Implicit Association Test, Systemic Racism


People are often biased in how they evaluate characteristics of individuals of different races. Some of these biases are perceptual: for example, the “race-lightness effect” demonstrates that for grayscale photos at equivalent luminance values, the faces of black individuals are frequently judged to be darker than the faces of white individuals. Other biases are cognitive: the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and direct assessments of racial attitudes demonstrate that people hold both negative implicit and explicit racial prejudices. Despite extensive literature on both topics, no study has explored the relationship between perceptual and cognitive racial biases in the same individuals in a within-subjects design. In this experiment, these relationships were explored in 28 individuals using three tasks: in one task, deemed the Race-Lightness Task (RLT), participants completed a 2-interval forced-choice procedure where they were shown pairs of faces (some with European features, some with African features) and asked to judge whether the second face was lighter or darker than the first. In a second task, individuals completed the IAT to measure their associations between race and positive/negative adjectives. Lastly, subjects answered a series of questions to measure explicit attitudes about different racial groups. While results from the RLT and IAT were uncorrelated, a significant correlation was shown between the IAT and a survey question about systemic racism. These results provide preliminary support for the independence of perception and cognition for racially based tasks, and provide insight into the pervasive nature of implicit and explicit racial prejudice.


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Social & Behavioral Sciences, Business, Education