Many Americans subconsciously associate blacks with apes, a new study shows.
In a series of studies that subliminally flashed black or white male faces on a screen for a fraction of a second to “prime” the students, researchers found subjects could identify blurry ape drawings much faster after they were primed with black faces than with white faces.
Why was there a difference between white and black faces? They also tried to prime subjects with Asian faces, but the subjects did not subconsciously associate Asians with apes.
Additionally, people are more likely to justify the beating of a black man than a white man when they subconsciously think about apes.
In the paper’s fifth study, the researchers subliminally primed 115 white male undergraduates with words associated with either apes (such as “monkey,” “chimp,” “gorilla”) or big cats (such as “lion,” “tiger,” “panther”). The latter was used as a control because both images are associated with violence and Africa, Eberhardt said. The subjects then watched a two-minute video clip, similar to the television program COPS, depicting several police officers violently beating a man of undetermined race. A mugshot of either a white or a black man was shown at the beginning of the clip to indicate who was being beaten, with a description conveying that, although described by his family as “a loving husband and father,” the suspect had a serious criminal record and may have been high on drugs at the time of his arrest.
The students were then asked to rate how justified the beating was. Participants who believed the suspect was white were no more likely to condone the beating when they were primed with either ape or big cat words, Eberhardt said. But those who thought the suspect was black were more likely to justify the beating if they had been primed with ape words than with big cat words.
Racial stereotypes are not just about hurting people’s feelings or abstract ideas dissociated from reality. Racial stereotypes have real consequences because they influence people’s perceptions and actions. If people are more likely to condone violence against a black man than a white man because of racial bias, it reveals not only an individual’s error in perception, but also systemic discrimination against blacks in society. It means that in our society, brutality against a black person is accepted more than brutality against a white person. This has ramifications throughout our legal system in terms of eye-witness reports and jury decisions.
Associating a black person with an ape is not just an insult, but an instance of dehumanization. Dehumanization is not just a very bad insult, but the dehumanized person’s life is considered less valuable than other lives. Dehumanization is not just unfair, but dangerous to the group that is dehumanized. (Think about effect of dehumanization on the Iraqis.)
Racial stereotypes are non-trivial and should be taken seriously.