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Educated African Americans Remembered as Having Lighter Skin

Update Date: Jan 14, 2014 08:33 AM EST

Educated blacks may be remembered as "whiter," a new study suggests.

Researchers said that the latest findings of intellectual African Americans being remembered as having lighter skin perpetuates cultural beliefs about race and intelligence.

Researchers said the study illustrates "skin tone memory bias."

"When a Black stereotypic expectancy is violated (herein, encountering an educated Black male), this culturally incompatible information is resolved by distorting this person's skin tone to be lighter in memory and therefore to be perceived as 'Whiter,'" lead researcher Avi Ben-Zeev said in a news release.

The latest study involved 160 university students. Participants were briefly exposed to one of two words subliminally: "ignorant" or "educated," followed immediately by a photograph of a Black man's face.

Afterwards, they were shown seven photographs that depicted the same face. They were shown the original photograph along with three with darker skin tones and three with lighter skin tones. They were then asked to identify the photograph shown at the beginning of the experiment.

The findings revealed that participants who were briefly exposed to the word "educated" were significantly more likely to choose pictures with lighter skin tones compared to those who were exposed to the word "ignorant".

"Uncovering a skin tone memory bias, such that an educated Black man becomes lighter in the mind's eye, has grave implications," said Ben-Zeev.

"We already know from past researchers about the disconcerting tendency to harbor more negative attitudes about people with darker complexions (e.g., the darker a Black male is, the more aggressive he is perceived to be). A skin tone memory bias highlights how memory protects this 'darker is more negative' belief by distorting counter-stereotypic Black individuals' skin tone to appear lighter and perhaps to be perceived as less threatening," he added.

The findings are published in the journal SAGE Open

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