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NYU Study finds African-Americans get “Blacker” as Economy Dips

Update Date: Jun 09, 2014 03:03 PM EDT

During hard economic times, people's perspectives, opinions and attitudes can start to shift. In a new study, psychologists from New York University (NYU) examined how people's views on African American people change in relation to the economy. The team found that as the economy worsens, African Americans get "blacker."

"It is well known that socioeconomic disparities between White Americans and racial minorities expand dramatically under conditions of economic scarcity," stated 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."

For this study, Amodio worked with Amy Krosch, a doctoral candidate in NYU's Department of Psychology and conducted four experiments on non-Black participants. In the first experiment, the participants were given a questionnaire regarding their views on how black and white Americans compete economically. After the questionnaire, the participants saw 110 faces that had varying racial content, ranging from 100 percent white to 100 percent black. The faces showed up individually one at a time and the participants were asked to identify the face as either black or white. The researchers found that people who felt more strongly about the economic competition between black and white Americans were more likely to have a lower threshold and identified mixed races as black more often.

In the second experiment, the researchers incorporated subliminal messages in between the faces. For example, right before the participants would see another face, certain words such as resource and limited, would show up. Neutral and generally negative words were also used. The team found people who saw words related to scarcity identified a face that was 35 percent black as a black person. People who saw neutral or negative words identified mixed people who were 41 to 43 percent black as black individuals.

In the last two experiments, the researchers found that people one again perceived black people's faces as blacker when economic scarcity was a factor. When the situation was neutral, the participants were less likely to view mixes faces as blacker.

"Together, our results provide strong converging evidence for the role of perceptual biases as a mechanism through which economic scarcity enhances discrimination and contributes to racial disparities," the authors wrote.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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