Throughout this semester, you have learned how to conduct scientific research, and in doing so, you have developed your skills in evaluating research. To demonstrate your scientific evaluation skills, you will need to read at least one of the scientific articles listed at the end of these instructions and then write a 2-page paper by August 3rd. By completing this assignment, you can receive up to an additional 1 point added to your final grade. You may only review one article for this assignment, you cannot receive more than 1 point for completing this assignment.
To receive extra credit:
To Be or Not to Be (Black or Multiracial or White): Cultural Variation in Racial Boundaries
Jacqueline M. Chen1,2, Maria Clara P. de Paula Couto3, Airi M. Sacco4, and Yarrow Dunham5
Culture shapes the meaning of race and, consequently, who is placed into which racial categories. Three experiments conducted in the United States and Brazil illustrated the cultural nature of racial categorization. In Experiment 1, a target’s racial ancestry influenced Americans’ categorizations but had no impact on Brazilians’ categorizations. Experiment 2 showed cultural differences in the reliance on two phenotypic cues to race; Brazilians’ categorizations were more strongly determined by skin tone than were Americans’ categorizations, and Americans’ categorizations were more strongly determined by other facial features compared to Brazilians’ categorizations. Experiment 3 demonstrated cultural differences in the motivated use of racial categories. When the racial hierarchy was threatened, only Americans more strictly enforced the Black–White racial boundary. Cultural forces shape the conceptual, perceptual, and ideological construal of racial categories.
race, categorization, culture, intergroup relations, face perception
Immigrants to the United States have to complete several forms
to be naturalized, and many report being unsure of how they fit
into the racial/ethnic categories presented on these forms
(Joseph, 2015). A self-identification that many Americans take
for granted causes confusion among others, illustrating the
social nature of racial categories. Our research sheds light on
how racial boundaries are shaped by cultural forces.
Americans frequently essentialize race, treating observed
racial differences as stemming from unobservable but deep
internal properties that are vertically transmitted from parents
to their offspring (Hirschfeld, 1998). Despite these powerful
intuitions, however, determining a person’s race is not always
straightforward. Perceptions of one’s race can be influenced by
irrelevant characteristics (e.g., Freeman, Penner, Saperstein,
Scheutz, & Ambady, 2011; Hugenberg & Bodenhausen,
2004), and perceivers’ attitudes and motivations can influence
how they categorize individuals (e.g., Chen, Moons, Gaither,
Hamilton, & Sherman, 2014). Thus, despite objectivist intui-
tions about race, the ways that people actually racially categor-
ize others depend on the social and motivational context. We
further show that these processes are embedded within a cul-
tural context by conducting three experiments comparing per-
ceivers’ racial categorization processes in the United States
and Brazil. Specifically, we examine cultural differences in the
use of ancestry (Experiment 1) and phenotypic cues (Experi-
ment 2) in racial categorization and then investigate the cultural
specificity of the motivated enforcement of racial boundaries
Both the United States and Brazil have a history of Native
American displacement, European settlement, and African
slavery. However, the two countries adopted different strate-
gies and practices to address racial diversity. While we cannot
do justice to this complex history here, we discuss below our
view that these historical differences have shaped cultural
divergences in race perception today. Our experimental
approach dovetails with sociological research comparing North
and South American racial stratification and ideology at macro-
levels (e.g., Bailey, Saperstein, & Penner, 2014; Telles, 2004,
2014) while also contributing to the growing psychological
literature on social categorization processes.
1 Department of Psychology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA 2 Department of Psychology and Social Behavior, University of California,
Irvine, CA, USA 3 EduLab21, Ayrton Senna Institute, São Paulo, Brazil 4 Department of Psychology, Federal University of Pelotas, Pelotas, Brazil 5 Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
Jacqueline M. Chen, Department of Psychology, University of Utah, Salt Lake
City, UT 84112, USA.
Email: [email protected]
Social Psychological and Personality Science 2018, Vol. 9(7) 763-772 ª The Author(s) 2017 Article reuse guidelines: sagepub.com/journals-permissions DOI: 10.1177/1948550617725149 journals.sagepub.com/home/spp
Conventions of American Racial Ideology
Racial categorization in the United States focuses on delineat-
ing boundaries using individuals’ ancestry. For example, the
so-called “one-drop” laws institutionalized hypodescent, the
allocation of mixed ancestry individuals to the lower-status
group by specifying that a person with Black blood was
defined as Black, irrespective of their other ancestries or their
appearance (Davis, 1991). Not only were individuals’ ances-
tries central to determining their race, but society also empha-
sized maintaining racial boundaries by attempting to keep
races “separate but equal.” Thus, historical conventions
enable American perceivers’ assumption that racial groups
are biologically based, discrete, and stable (Banks & Eber-
hardt, 1998; Chen & Hamilton, 2012; Dunham & Olson,
2016; Richeson & Sommers, 2016), an assumption that self-
perpetuates (see Prentice & Miller, 2007; Williams & Eber-
Past studies have provided insight into how American views
of race play out in social perception. White Americans continue
to engage in hypodescent when categorizing racially ambiguous
mixed race faces (Peery & Bodenhausen, 2008) or when consid-
ering how individuals of mixed ancestry should be categorized
(e.g., Ho, Sidanius, Levin, & Banaji, 2011; Sanchez, Good, &
Chavez, 2011; see also Ho, Kteily, & Chen, in press). Yet, it
is only beginning in middle childhood that Americans reliably
associate ancestry with race and exhibit hypodescent in their
categorizations of multiracial targets (Roberts & Gelman,
2015), suggesting that ancestry-based racial categorization pat-
terns are culturally learned. Further, perhaps reflecting the his-
torical effort to subordinate Black–White individuals using
one-drop rules, White Americans who are seeking to preserve
existing racial stratification are especially likely to engage in
hypodescent (Ho, Sidanius, Cuddy, & Banaji, 2013; Krosch &
Amodio, 2014; see also Penner & Saperstein, 2013).
Therefore, previous research clearly suggests that Ameri-
cans are socialized to view race through an essentialist lens that
can be traced back to the country’s historical treatment of race.
We seek to provide illuminating evidence of the cultural nature
of these processes by direct cross-cultural comparison with
race perception in Brazil.
Conventions of Brazilian Racial Ideology
Brazilian racial ideology emphasizes racial miscegenation and
the flexibility of racial categorization. After slavery was
abolished, the government explicitly encouraged interracial
marriage in an attempt to “dilute” Blackness in order to socially
and politically weaken the large African Brazilian population
(Telles, 2004, 2014). Encouraging individual upward mobility
via “self-whitening,” albeit for anti-Black reasons, tacitly
endorses a conceptualization of an individual’s race as flexible
and subject to change, while preserving the subordinate status
of the Black racial group overall. The individual fluidity norm
is in stark contrast with the United States, where miscegena-
tion, far from “diluting” Blackness, would serve to increase the
Black population through the operation of hypodescent. Today,
multiracial people are viewed as an intermediate racial group
between Blacks and Whites (Skidmore, 1993), and the Brazi-
lian census permits people to identify as Multiracial (“Parda”),
Black (“Preta”), or White (“Branca”) (Instituto Brasileiro de
Geografia e Estatı́stica, 2011).
Reflecting a fluid conceptualization of an individual’s race,
there were no formalized rules for racial classifications, nor any
institutionally sanctioned linking of race with ancestry (Telles,
2004). Instead, the push for self-whitening as a mechanism for
upward mobility linked race with socioeconomic status
(Schwartzman, 2007) and appearance (especially skin tone;
Telles, 2004), two attributes that are more malleable than one’s
ancestry. Reflecting the ultimate success of the cultural disso-
ciation between racial appearance and ancestry, Brazilians’
racial appearance and self-identification are only weakly pre-
dictive of their actual amount of African ancestry (Parra
et al., 2003).
To our knowledge, there is no social psychological research
examining Brazilians’ perceptions of race. Sociologists have
argued that Brazilians make racial categorizations on the basis
of appearance, privileging skin tone as the defining feature of
race (Telles, 2014), with little relation to their genetic ancestry
(Santos et al., 2009). Thus, our research seeks to experimen-
tally validate long-standing claims from sociology and provide
the first experimental cross-cultural comparison of race percep-
tion between the United States and Brazil.
Overview of Current Research
Three experiments show that the differences in cultural con-
ventions have powerful psychological consequences, affect-
ing how race is perceived and how racial boundaries are
defended. Experiment 1 examined cultural differences in the
conceptualization of race by manipulating ancestry and pit-
ting it against targets’ appearance. Experiment 2 examined
cultural differences in the perceptual bases of race, specifi-
cally in the use of skin tone versus facial features in racial
categorizations. Experiment 3 investigated the cultural-
embeddedness of motivated race perception by examining
whether the motivated use of racial boundaries functioned dif-
ferently across cultures.
Experiment 1 investigated cultural differences in individuals’
use of a person’s ancestry versus appearance in racial categor-
ization. We hypothesized that individuals’ categorizations
would reflect cultural differences in the conceptualization of
race. Specifically, we predicted that Americans would categor-
ize targets consistent with their heritage whereas Brazilians
would categorize targets consistent with their appearance. In
addition, we expected to observe hypodescent in the categori-
zation of mixed ancestry targets among Americans but not
764 Social Psychological and Personality Science 9(7)
Americans (n¼ 145; 100 females) participated in exchange for
partial credit for university psychology courses (Mage ¼ 19.93,
SD ¼ 2.16). Brazilians (n¼ 122; 101 females) participated after
being recruited from university psychology courses (Mage =
24.59; SD¼ 3.40). The SOM contains sample size goals, sample
racial demographics, and analyses by participant race for all
The stimulus set consisted of eight faces of Multiracial children
(four female faces) from a larger Brazilian stimulus set (BIC-
Multicolor; Sacco, de Paula Couto, & Koller, 2016). We pre-
tested the faces in both countries (see SOM for details). To
be selected, the stimulus faces had to be considered Multiracial
(as opposed to Black or White) by at least 75% of participants
in both countries.
Survey materials for all three studies were created in English,
translated into Portuguese by a bilingual social psychologist, and
then checked by another bilingual social psychologist. All sur-
veys were programmed in Qualtrics and completed online.
Demographic questions were always at the end of the study, and
participants’ response options for race were determined by the
categories typically available on their country’s census.
Participants consented to participate in a study assessing their
social attitudes and beliefs. Participants were randomly assigned
to view one of the targets, whose face was presented with the fol-
lowing background information: “This child was born in the
United States (Brazil). His (her) parents are African American
[vs. One of his (her) parents is African American, and the other
is White vs. His (her) parents are White].” Participants were
asked to categorize the target by race in an open-ended question
(“What race is this child?”).
The study had a 2 (Culture: United States vs. Brazil) � 3
(Ancestry: two Black parents vs. one Black parent and one
White parent vs. two White parents) between-subjects design.
The frequency and type of racial categorizations were the
Although the majority of participants’ responses (approxi-
mately 76%) fell into the racial categories of Black, Multira-
cial, and White, a substantial proportion of their responses
did not. Americans (but not Brazilians) occasionally generated
alternative racial categorizations (e.g., Indian, Latino). Thus,
we analyzed participants’ categorizations of the target as
Black, Multiracial, White, or other. We tested our predictions
using analysis of variance (ANOVA; below) and multinomial
regression (in SOM), with both analyses reaching the same
We ran a 2 (Culture: United States vs. Brazil) � 3 (Ances-
try: Black vs. Black/White vs. White) � 4 (Racial Categoriza-
tion: Black, Multiracial, White, or Other) mixed model
ANOVA on participants’ categorizations, with the latter factor
being within-subjects. The predicted three-way interaction
between Culture, Ancestry, and Categorization emerged,
F(6, 783) ¼ 9.51, p < .001, Zp 2 ¼ .07 (see Figure 1). We thus
broke down the results separately by culture.
Among Brazilians, there was only a main effect of Categor-
ization, F(3, 357) ¼ 95.90, p < .001, Zp 2 ¼ .45. Regardless of
parents’ race, Brazilians categorized the children predomi-
nantly as Multiracial, M ¼ .72 95% CI [.65, .81], SE ¼ .04.
Multiracial categorizations were significantly more frequent
than Black M ¼ .07 95% CI [.03, .12], SE ¼ .02; White
M ¼ .18 95% CI [.11, .25], SE ¼ .04; or Other M ¼ .00 95% CI [.00, .00], SE ¼ .00 categorizations, all ps < .05. As
expected, Brazilians’ racial categorizations were uninfluenced
by information about the children’s ancestry.
Black Black-White White
f R ac
ia l C
Black Black-White White
f R ac
ia l C
Figure 1. Proportion of racial categorizations as a function of parents’ race and country in Experiment 1 (Whiskers denote +1 SE).
Chen et al. 765
Among Americans, there was a main effect of Categoriza-
tion, F(3, 426) ¼ 13.11, p < .001, Zp 2 ¼ .09, that was qualified
by the predicted interaction with Ancestry, F(6, 426) ¼ 20.57,
p < .001, Zp 2 ¼ .23. Americans were more likely to categorize
children as Black when their parents were Black, M ¼ .51 95% CI [.39, .63], SE ¼ .06, as opposed to Black/White, M ¼ .26
95% CI [.14, .37], SE ¼ .06, or White M ¼ .04 95% CI
[–.07, .16], SE ¼ .06, ps < .01. Participants were more likely
to categorize targets as Multiracial when they had only one
Black parent, M ¼ .59 95% CI [.49, .68], SE ¼ .05, as opposed
to two Black parents, [M¼ .04 95% CI [–.06, .14], SE¼ .05, or
two White parents, M ¼ .06 95% CI [–.04, .16], SE ¼ .04, ps <
.001. And participants were more likely to categorize targets as
White when both their parents were White, M ¼ .23 95% CI
[.16, .30], SE ¼ .04, compared to when one parent was White,
M ¼ .00 95% CI [–.07, .07], SE ¼ .03, or both were Black, M
¼ .00 95% CI [–.07, .07], SE¼ .04, ps < .001. Therefore, ances-
try strongly shaped Americans’ racial categorizations of the chil-
dren. The unexpected “Other” categorizations of the targets were
highest for two White parents, M ¼ .62 95% CI [.49, .75], SE¼ .07, ps < .01, and higher two Black parents, M ¼ .40 95% CI [.28, .53], SE ¼ .07, compared to when one parent was
White and the other Black, M ¼ .14 95% CI [.01, .26], SE ¼ .06, p ¼ .004.
Finally, we found evidence of hypodescent such that Amer-
icans were more likely to categorize a child with mixed paren-
tage as Black, M ¼ .26 95% CI [.14, .37], SE ¼ .06, than as
White, M ¼ .00 [–.07, .07], SE ¼ .03, p < .001. Brazilians did
not engage in hypodescent, categorizing a child with mixed
heritage as White, M ¼ .16 95% CI [.04, .27], SE ¼ .06, as
often as Black, M ¼ .07 [–.01, .15], SE ¼ .04, p ¼ .23.
This study provides a clear illustration of cultural differences in
how individuals determine another person’s race. Whereas
Brazilians’ categorizations ignored targets’ ancestry and
focused only on appearance, Americans’ categorizations were
heavily influenced by targets’ ancestry and, to a lesser extent,
their appearance. These findings reflect the historical differ-
ences in how the United States and Brazil defined race, the for-
mer in terms of ancestry and hypodescent for multiracial
individuals, the latter in terms of appearance.
The use of the “other” categories, occurring only among
Americans and predominantly in the White parents condition,
shows that ancestry is not the only criterion for race in the
United States. Indeed, Americans’ categorizations were
partially driven by appearance, and this tendency was asym-
metric, such that perceivers most often rejected the ancestral
cue and generated alternative (non-White) categories when tar-
gets’ appearance seemingly did not match the White parentage
information. These findings suggest an interesting possibility—
that different racial categories have different criteria for mem-
bership in the United States. More generally, however, the
documented strong relationship between ancestry and race for
Americans, but not for Brazilians, reveals deep differences in
the factors driving racial categorization in each culture.
Whereas Experiment 1 documented cultural differences in the
conceptual basis of racial categorization, Experiment 2 sought
a finer grained investigation of the use of two perceptual, that
is, phenotypic, cues (skin tone and other facial features) in
Americans’ and Brazilians’ categorizations. In doing so, we pro-
vided the first experimental investigation of United States-Brazil
differences in the perceptual bases of racial categorization.
Past work suggests that Americans’ racial categorization
will rely on both cues. Americans believe that one’s ancestry
and appearance are closely linked, such that they expect a child
of Black parents to look Black as well (Hirschfeld, 1998). Con-
sistent with this view, in the absence of ancestral information,
American adults’ racial categorizations and social evaluations
of individuals rely on both skin tone and facial features (e.g.,
Stepanova & Strube, 2012). Yet, skin tone is a stronger and
developmentally earlier-emerging predictor of American cate-
gorizations (Dunham, Stepanova, Dotsch, & Todorov, 2015;
Stepanova & Strube, 2012). Thus, we hypothesized that Amer-
icans’ categorizations would use both skin tone and facial fea-
tures, but that they would rely more on skin tone.
With respect to Brazil, macro-level and qualitative analyses
support the dominance of skin color over other phenotypic cues,
including facial features, in lay conceptions of race (Santos et al.,
2009; Telles, 2004, 2014; Travassos & Williams, 2004; but
see Bailey et al., 2014; Banton, 2012). Based on these findings
outside of experimental social psychology, we predicted that
Brazilians would use skin tone more than facial features.
Our research also directly compared the importance of skin
tone and facial features in racial categorizations in the United
States and Brazil. Because both qualitative (e.g., Telles,
2014) and quantitative (e.g., Experiment 1) research across
disciplines argue that lay definitions of race in the United States
focus on ancestry as a primary cue to race and on appearance as
a secondary cue, and because other social sciences indicate that
Brazilians define race primarily in terms of skin tone (e.g.,
Telles, 2014; Travassos & Williams, 2004), we predicted that
Brazilians would use skin tone more strongly than Americans.
Our investigation of between-culture differences in the use of
other facial features was more exploratory, but the sociological
work described above pointing to the centrality of skin color in
Brazil allowed us to cautiously predict that Brazilians would
make less use of these features than Americans.
One hundred and nine Americans (62 females) were recruited
from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (Mage ¼ 35.67; SD ¼ 1.25). One hundred twenty-eight Brazilians (53 females,
28 males, and 47 declined to state) were a recruited in a conve-
nience sample (Mage ¼ 30.14; SD ¼ 0.94).
766 Social Psychological and Personality Science 9(7)
Materials and Procedure
Participants learned that they would be viewing faces and cate-
gorizing them by race (“What race is this person?” with Black,
Multiracial, and White response options). Two extensively
validated stimulus sets were used (Dunham et al., 2015; Stepa-
nova & Strube, 2012). The faces varied along two dimensions:
skin tone (very dark to very light) and facial features (very
Afrocentric to very Eurocentric). Both dimensions had 10 lev-
els. Participants were randomly assigned to a stimulus set and
categorized each face by race in random order.
The study had a 2 (Culture: Brazil vs. United States) � 2
(Stimulus set) � 10 (Skin tone: very dark to very light) � 10
(Facial features: very Afrocentric to very Eurocentric) mixed
design, with the latter two factors being within-subjects. The
dependent variable was racial categorization. Including stimu-
lus set as a factor did not change the results, and we collapsed
across this factor.
Results and Discussion
We conducted a fixed-effects multilevel model predicting
categorization (1 ¼ Black, 2 ¼ Multiracial, and 3 ¼ White)
with mean-centered skin tone an
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