In Gutsell and Inzlicht’s study showing physical evidence that white people have difficulty empathizing with non-white people, the researchers studied only white people and made a generalization about “people”:
Our research suggests that people do not mentally simulate the actions of outgroups. That is, those neural networks underlying the simulation of actions and intentions—most likely part of the ‘‘mirror-neuron-system”—are less responsive to outgroup members than to ingroup members.
The Clark Doll Experiment showed that black children prefer white dolls to black dolls during the time of de jure racial segregation. If the researchers instead tested only white children as representative of “children” and found that white children preferred white dolls to black dolls, they might have concluded that all children during Jim Crow prefer dolls of their own race, which would have been completely wrong.
In studies on implicit race bias, white people unconsciously prefer white people to black people, even when they do not consider themselves racist. If the implicit race bias researchers tested only white participants, they might conclude that the preference is due to “people’s” ingroup bias. However, they would be completely wrong, since the same implicit race bias studies on blacks show that blacks prefer whites and blacks equally.
Gutsell and Inzlicht’s study should be replicated to include people of colour to provide a more accurate picture of how the mirror-neuron-system interacts with race and white privilege.
Avoid the perpetual foreigner stereotype in psychology research.
However, many of the psychology studies on the racial perceptions of Whites and East Asians purposely select only the Asians who are recent immigrants, or Asians living in Asia. For example, in a 2005 study titled, “Cross-cultural emotion recognition among Canadian ethnic groups”, Beaupré and Hess selected for all the Chinese participants to be first-generation immigrants, which is unhelpful if I want to test a hypothesis on race, not culture. If you want to test the “ingroup preference” hypothesis in terms of race and ethnicity, you have to compare people from the same culture. This means that all the Chinese Canadians should have been born and raised in Canada.
However, they mention other psychology studies* that found an asymmetry in emotion recognition between a minority group and the majority group, although they still seem to confuse race and culture. (Instead of “cultural groups” they probably mean “racial groups”. “Asian Canadian” and “Caucasian” are not “cultural” groups, but “racial” groups.):
In fact, group status may moderate cross-cultural emotion recognition accuracy (see Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002a; and Wolfgang & Cohen, 1988, for a discussion). For example, members of minority cultural groups may recognize emotion expressions displayed by individuals of the majority cultural group more efficiently than members of the majority can in return recognize expressions of the minority group (Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002a). Furthermore, in some cases, an out-group advantage occurs such that members of minority groups recognize the majority’s emotion expressions better than they recognize their own (Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002a). For instance, Asian Canadians have been shown to be more accurate when judging intense emotions displayed by Caucasian compared to Asian expressers (Bourgeois, Herrera, & Hess, 2005).
In other words, in white-majority countries, people of colour recognize the facial expressions of white people better than white people recognize the facial expressions of people of colour.
Racial differences in emotion recognition between the white majority and non-white minorities are not explained by ingroup bias. Sometimes, studies about white people are really studies about people with white privilege, not “people” in general.
* Unfortunately, the Bourgeois, Herrera, and Hess (2005) paper was submitted for publication but has not been published. The Elfenbein and Ambady (2002a) study is available.