Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Subtle transmission of race bias by televised nonverbal behavior

It is well known that whites who appear nonprejudiced on self-report measures tend to display negative nonverbal behaviors as a function of unconscious, automatically activated racial bias. Weisbuch et al. illustrate how racial prejudice can be covertly spread and reinforced by noting uncover racial bias in actors' nonverbal displays despite the highly scripted nature of prime-time television shows, which generally minimizes expressions of racial bias. They obtain their findings with samples of white college undergraduates, who are more favorable toward outgroups (individuals whom the white students consider outside their group) and more inclined to conceal negative responses toward outgroups than the "average" white American. Here is their abstract:
Compared with more explicit racial slurs and statements, biased facial expressions and body language may resist conscious identification and thus produce a hidden social influence. In four studies, we show that race biases can be subtly transmitted via televised nonverbal behavior. Characters on 11 popular television shows exhibited more negative nonverbal behavior toward black than toward status-matched white characters. Critically, exposure to prowhite (versus problack) nonverbal bias increased viewers’ bias even though patterns of nonverbal behavior could not be consciously reported. These findings suggest that hidden patterns of televised nonverbal behavior influence bias among viewers.

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