As Economy Declines, African-Americans Appear ‘Blacker,’ Study Shows

Medical Xpress, June 9, 2014

When the economy declines, African Americans are more likely to be seen as “Blacker” and to bear stereotypical features, according to a new study by psychology researchers at New York University. Their findings, which appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that economic duress may spur racial discrimination.

“It is well known that socioeconomic disparities between White Americans and racial minorities expand dramatically under conditions of economic scarcity,” says David Amodio, the study’s senior author and an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science. “Our findings indicate that scarcity changes the way that the people visually perceive another person’s race, and that this perceptual distortion can contribute to disparities.”


While a person’s race is often thought to be “fixed,” prior research has shown that perceptions of race may shift as a result of changes to the perceiver’s social goals and motivations. For example, a perceiver’s political ideology has been found to influence the extent to which they see biracial individuals as being Black or White.

With this in mind, Krosch and Amodio examined whether exposure to resource scarcity could similarly alter racial perceptions.

To test this, they conducted a series of experiments involving female and male non-Black subjects.

In an initial experiment, subjects completed a questionnaire assessing their concerns about economic competition between Black and White Americans (e.g., “When Blacks make economic gains, Whites lose out economically”)–items embedded in a questionnaire that was otherwise irrelevant to race so as to hide the researchers’ main interest.

Then, these participants viewed, on a computer screen, a series of 110 morphed faces that ranged in racial content from 100 percent White to 100 percent Black at 11 different increments. Faces were presented one at a time, in random order, and subjects were asked to identify whether each face was Black or White.

If a face was viewed solely on the percentage of its racial content, subjects would, in theory, categorize as “Black” any face whose composition was mostly Black and as “White” any face whose composition was mostly White. However, the results of this experiment yielded noticeably different results.

Specifically, subjects who more strongly believed in resource competition between Whites and Blacks had a lower threshold for identifying mixed-race faces as Black than did subjects who did not hold these zero-sum views.

However, the design of this study only allowed the researchers to test the correlation between perceived scarcity and race perceptions. To test the casual effect of scarcity on such race perceptions, the researchers conducted a second experiment, with a new set of subjects.

Here, they repeated the morphing test, but added a manipulation prior to the viewing that was aimed at establishing different conditions. Specifically, before subjects saw each morphed face, researchers briefly (20 milliseconds) flashed different types of words on the screen. These “subliminal primes” were scarcity-related words (scarce, resource, sparse, limited), neutral words (fluffy, appetite, scenic, antique), or negative words that were unrelated to scarcity (brutal, confront, odious, fragile). Subjects saw only one category of words prior to viewing the faces.

Their results showed that subjects in the scarcity-primed condition had a significantly lower threshold for identifying mixed-race faces as Black than those in either the neutral or negative conditions (i.e., they identified a face as “Black” when it contained only 35 percent Black content, whereas subjects in the neutral and negative conditions identified faces as Black when they had at least 41 percent or 43 percent Black content, respectively). In other words, to these subjects, faces became blacker when linked to economic scarcity—and significantly more so than when connected to general negativity.

Next, the researchers sought to test whether the perception of resource scarcity leads people to represent Black Americans in their mind as appearing more dark and “stereotypical” looking—an appearance that has been shown to elicit greater discrimination from White people. The researchers tested this idea in two additional experiments.

In the first, White male and female subjects were told they would be playing an “allocation” game in which money would be divided with a partner. In it, the subjects were the allocators and, as such, learned they would be given an endowment of money to allocate to their partner. In all conditions, subjects were assigned to allocate $10. However, in a “scarcity” condition, this amount was presented as $10 out of a possible $100 (a small portion of the total funds) whereas in the control condition it was presented as $10 out of a possible $10 (the maximum portion of the total funds).

While waiting for their partner (the recipient) to come online, subjects were asked to complete “an unrelated task to pretest stimuli for a future face perception study.” In fact, this “pretest” was solely designed to assess how subjects viewed faces. In the task, subjects viewed a series of face pairs with subtle variations in facial features and skin tone; they were asked to indicate which face in each of the 400 viewed pairs was “Black.”

A composite image made up of these selections revealed subjects’ mental representations of a Black person—the way they imagined a Black person as appearing in their mind. The researchers created two composite face images from these data: one representing a Black person under the scarcity condition and the other representing a Black person in the control condition.

When these composite face images were shown to a new sample of White subjects, unaware of the conditions under which the faces were created, these subjects judged the face produced under scarcity as significantly darker and more stereotypically Black than they did the composite produced in the control condition.

In a fourth experiment, the researchers tested the views of White adults, randomly selected in a city park. In it, subjects were told “people often make important decisions about others based on very little information” and that the researchers were interested in how a person’s deservingness can be discerned from appearance alone. Subjects viewed the faces created in Study 3, side-by-side, and indicated how they would divide $15 between them. The subjects allocated significantly less money to the person depicted by the face visualized under scarcity in Study 3 than the control face.



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  • And the problem is?

    When resources are tight, people tribe up.

  • JackKrak

    Oh, Christ – is nothing too stupid for these “researchers”???

    You know, black people seem blacker to me after I eat breakfast and around the time of a full moon. Where does that put me on the “racist” scale?

    • Katherine McChesney

      Do their teeth and eyes appear to glow during the full moon?

      • IstvanIN

        Yes, and in headlights, too (thank goodness).

      • Bunky

        They are decidedly hirsute during the full moon phase.

    • Martel

      This study only confirms the claim that multi ethnic societies are not feasible, I like this study as it supports my views, and yours, presumably.

    • TruthBeTold

      If you want to see more race ‘research’, google this headline from the dailymail:

      Crossing the road is more dangerous for African Americans: New study says drivers are less likely to stop for black pedestrians

  • Samuel_Morton

    So in the Great Depression, this is how every black was perceived:

    • DeMarquise Elkins

      They still look the same on WorldStar.

    • ElComadreja

      That’s better than most of them look.

    • Frank Morris

      An accurate perception in all economies!

  • freddy_hills

    “Our findings indicate that scarcity changes the way that the people
    visually perceive another person’s race, and that this perceptual
    distortion can contribute to disparities.”

    So this means that poor people (who experience more scarcity) are disproportionately racist, right? Well, aren’t blacks disproportionately poor? Amazing that these researchers never thought to test that, eh?

    • LHathaway

      “scarcity changes the way that the people visually perceive another person’s race, and that this perceptual distortion can contribute to disparities.”

      Well, actually I think they are saying that poor people are the cause of other people being Really poor. I guess they are blaming poor whites for the poverty of african american’s, and perhaps everyone elses povcerty, anywhere in the world. But the point you make would seem to be valid one, but not to these researchers. They can’t be expected to think through every implication of their thinking, I mean, of this experiment.

  • JSS

    So in other words with less and less of YTs shekels up for redistribution the more Africans revert to their natural state.

  • dd121

    If I ever hit a 300 million jackpot, they’re still black, and I still will avoid contact with them.

  • This study was conducted by Cultural Marxists to “prove” that all whites are racist and thus must be exterminated. I posted the Daily Mail’s version of the story on my site last night, complete with a graph.

    The study is bull because during a recession EVERYTHING is perceived differently. There’s no racism in that.

    A hopeful sign is that all the comments on the Daily Mail mocked and ridiculed the “study.”

    • 4321realist

      “This study was conducted by Cultural Marxists to “prove” that all whites are racist…”

      Right on.

      But what it really proved is that multiracialism doesn’t work, and it won’t work.
      It proves that nothing can get done in a society that’s multiracial, because so much time and effort is wasted on concerns about racism.

      And when they try to claim white racism is permanent they’re really agreeing that multiracialism doesn’t work.

      If they were honest and pointed out that no racial group in the US gets along with blacks and all of them outperform blacks as a group, they would add further points to the fact that multiracialism is a recipe for societal failure.

  • Usually Much Calmer

    This is along the lines of Tyler Durden’s ‘get in a fight and loose’ assignment:

    AmRen readers who like interacting with strangers, want a cheap form of entertainment, live in a college town or neighborhood, and believe in the butterfly effects of microactivism should sign up for psych experiments at the local uni.

    The whole premise or structure of the experiment will likely be convoluted and nonsensical. Stifle your contempt. Act confused. Challenge, naively, the assumptions. Waste equal time devoted to the trial ($10 for 30 minutes=aim to spend 30 minutes ‘not understanding the constructs of the experiment’).

    Give them an experience that makes them wake up in the middle of the night from a bad dream in which your face says, “I don’t think the world is what you are telling people it is.”

    Never get confrontational, they will give you $10 anyway. Spend it on a simple pleasure that you enjoy while thinking about how you report your good work to the rest of us. This could be 2 pints, a flick, time in the batting cage, whatever.

  • LHathaway

    So, subjects who ‘strongly believed in resource competition had a lower threshold for identifying faces as black’. Could this is simply be the more honest group? But of course, how can this test be honest at all, for subjects were looking at an ‘unrelated’ 20 different skin gradients of ‘blackness’ yet the subjects had no idea they were tested about anything more than finance?

    First, there’s no such thing as race, and now there are 20 different recognizable and apparently indisputable, concrete levels of blackness. And whiteness too, if they were ever to do a study that had whites (and not their racism) in mind. We may have to wait for extraterrestrials to visit before there is a study addressing the well-being of whites.

    • dd121

      It’s written to imply that whites hate blacks not matter what, and blacks don’t hate whites. The truth, as usual, is 180 degrees out of sync.

  • 4321realist

    Why are these “researchers” always so hung up on black and white disparities when nobody gets along with blacks? In fact there are more differences and more fighting between blacks and non-blacks than between whites and blacks.
    And in school it is the black/white achievement gap that is constantly talked about, yet all non-blacks do better than blacks and the achievement gap between them has always been there, and, in fact, it’s growing bigger nowadays now that more Hispanics are becoming educated. And Asians are growing in number.
    Besides whites, there are about 65 million non-blacks in this country, and they all do better as a group than blacks. Why aren’t the differences there ever pointed out?

  • JP Rushton

    How about because the media calls every person with a tan “black”, people are starting to see it that way.

    Nah, must be racist whackos!

  • DeMarquise Elkins

    How much blacker are they? Can you give me a RGB code for that ?

    • MekongDelta69

      When your old CRT blew when you tried turning on your TV, you looked at your screen and what you saw was the RGB output of a blown CRT.

      aka – black.

    • r j p


  • IKUredux

    Blah, blah, blah. Look, they do nothing but run experiments to prove that Whites are racist. They think they have proven that nine month old White babies are racist. I say, let us stipulate that all Whites are racist from the moment we are born. So, like gays, who are born that way, so are we Whites! There is no fighting nature, is there? We Whites are born as racist as people are born homosexual. BORN THIS WAY!!!!

  • MekongDelta69

    Uh oh. UH OH. Another useless ‘academic study’ to prove, once again, that Whites are evil – all funded by our taxpayer dollars and leftist students’ tuition fees.

  • Brian

    The way this study was designed, there was no question that whites would come out looking bad, and blacks like sympathetic victims– the only question was how much.

    items embedded in a questionnaire that was otherwise irrelevant to race so as to hide the researchers’ main interest.
    You don’t say.

    These researchers often claim they study whites because it’s easier to find more test subjects. With the explosive growth of hispanics, that excuse no longer holds water. Maybe they can show how hispanics do the same thing as whites, under the same scenario? Or (gasp) that blacks also get stingier when scarcity increases?

  • WR_the_realist

    It’s astounding to see the imaginative new ways researchers come up with to find racism everywhere.

    Anyhow, if an economic crash makes white people more likely to look out after their own interests, then bring it on.

  • And better behaved.