Clothing can trigger racial stereotypes: Study

Washington: Clothing can make you colour blind, as your perception of people`s race depends not just on their skin tone but also how smartly they are dressed, says a new study.

The findings suggest that our determination of a person`s race may be shaped by common stereotypes and prejudices, said researchers at the Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the US.

"The study shows how the perception of a face is always a compromise between the visual cues before our eyes and the baggage we bring to the table, like the stereotypes we hold," lead researcher Jonathan Freeman was quoted as saying by LiveScience.

In the study, Freeman and his colleagues showed a seriesof virtual faces created by a programme, called FaceGen Modeller, to a group of 34 participants.

Each of the 16 computer-generated faces contained 13 "levels of race," meaning that each facial identity had 13 versions that varied by skin colour and other racial characteristics like nose shape.

The facial photos showed the top half of the virtual person`s torso, with half of them wearing high-status business attire and the others low-status janitor attire.

When asked to determine the race of the virtual faces that were racially ambiguous, the study participants were more likely to view the faces with high-status attire as white and those with low-status attire as black, the team reported in the journal PLoS One.

Next, the researchers repeated their first experiment with 22 participants, this time tracking their computer-mouse movements as they chose either "white" or "black" for each face.

They found that in cases where the participants ultimately decided that a face with paired high-status attire was black or a face with low-status attire was white, they were still drawn to choosing the other, more stereotypical option; in these cases, the participants moved their cursors slightly closer to the opposite response before making their
final decisions.

Using a computer model with built-in stereotypes about race and social status, the researchers then showed that contextual cues such as clothing can actually trigger stereotypes and influence race perception.

"Racial stereotypes are powerful enough to trickle downto affect even basic visual processing of other people, systematically skewing the way we view our social world," Freeman said.


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