White people are different from people.

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.

Ideally, the conflation of Asianness with foreignness should not contaminate the research methods of studies on the racial perception of East Asians. Race and ethnicity are not the same as culture.

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.

4 Responses to “White people are different from people.”

  1. Restructure! Says:

    I did a major update of the second half of this post, now with more research!

  2. White people have difficulty recognizing our emotions, but we can recognize white people’s emotions. « Restructure! Says:

    […] White people are different from people. […]

  3. Shep Says:

    “The Clark Doll Experiment showed that black children prefer white dolls to black dolls during the time of de jure racial segregation. ”
    Maybe that has to do with low self-esteem and self-hate, which were terrible consequences of the treatment of Blacks in America. Why do so many Black women get weaves? I’m not saying self-hatred always plays a role, but perhaps some Black women feel into the White construction of beauty by those stupid Cosmo magazines and the media in general. If people learn to be racist and dehumanize others, then they also learn to self-hate and dehumanize themselves. Therefore, a more correct title would be “Some white people make their own brains act different from most non-white people when it comes to low-level empathy,” not the title you have, which takes quantum leaps to imply “ALL whites are different from ALL other people,” implies non-personhood in white people and implies this is implicit in white people.

    If I read studies suggesting an epidemic of Black self-hated and the absence of this in other races, would I post a blog titled “Blacks are different from people?”

    Gutsell and Inzlicht’s study showed white people images of brown people drinking water, which is a robotic task. Maybe the results would have been different if they watched brown people get hurt and cry.

    As NancyP said in your other post, “white people lack empathy for brown people,”

    “Empathy” is a rather fuzzy term used to designate a wide range of thoughts and feelings. Some of these are listed below:
    1. Imagining bodily sensation (proprioception) felt by another person performing a motor action (picking up the glass, in the case of the research prompting this thread).
    2. Interpretation of another person’s “body language”.
    3. Strong emotion on seeing a wounded person.
    4. Philosophical conviction that other persons “matter” and are to be treated properly (Golden Rule versions).
    The study covered in the thread is measuring something on the order of #1. ”

    Maybe if Blacks were the majority group in America and whites were the minority, brown dolls would have been chosen by white girls. Maybe white people would be better at reading brown facial expressions than brown people could read whites, because maybe the minority group unconsciously feels like it must anticipate the responses of the majority. This would make sense because if I was in a place where most people did not look like me, I might feel uncomfortable and nervous and try and anticipate the majority’s emotions and responses so as not to cause them to get mad at and gang up on me.

    Saying that white people are different from people is a misleading conclusion based on the evidence you showed. It sounds a bit racist, too, like you’re saying whites are less than human, when it may have less to do with race and more to do with the roles being played by a majority group and a minority group. As far as I know, this study did not factor in the context of those who participated in the study. Would white people who live in Chinatown, Spanish Harlem, Camden, D.C. or Baltimore have reacted differently? Were more conservatives involves than liberals? As far as I know, there was not a control group in this study.

  4. Restructure! Says:

    Therefore, a more correct title would be “Some white people make their own brains act different from most non-white people when it comes to low-level empathy,” not the title you have, which takes quantum leaps to imply “ALL whites are different from ALL other people,” implies non-personhood in white people and implies this is implicit in white people.

    Well, the title is supposed to be read literally as

    “White people” are different from “people”.

    although there is that double-entendre of implying non-personhood in white people, which is more of an ironic “joke”, since, overwhelmingly, it’s non-white people who are considered non-persons by those in power (white people), and it’s those researchers who thought that white people were the best examples of “people” in general.

    If I read studies suggesting an epidemic of Black self-hated and the absence of this in other races, would I post a blog titled “Blacks are different from people?”

    I find it disheartening that when I try to flip the Othering so that white people might know how subtle language can be Othering, white people instead feel uniquely targetted instead of empathizing with how it’s like to be a person of colour.

    Gutsell and Inzlicht’s study showed white people images of brown people drinking water, which is a robotic task. Maybe the results would have been different if they watched brown people get hurt and cry.

    But you would have to explain why white people don’t see other white people drinking water as robots, only non-white people drinking water.

    As NancyP said in your other post, “white people lack empathy for brown people,”

    “Empathy” is a rather fuzzy term used to designate a wide range of thoughts and feelings. Some of these are listed below:
    1. Imagining bodily sensation (proprioception) felt by another person performing a motor action (picking up the glass, in the case of the research prompting this thread).
    2. Interpretation of another person’s “body language”.
    3. Strong emotion on seeing a wounded person.
    4. Philosophical conviction that other persons “matter” and are to be treated properly (Golden Rule versions).
    The study covered in the thread is measuring something on the order of #1. ”

    Yes. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t that the most interesting definition, since seeing other people as people is a prerequisite for the other types of empathy? For example, before I can have strong emotion from seeing a wounded person versus seeing a broken teapot, it would be necessary for me to see the person as a person, who has pain receptors and such, which the teapot doesn’t have.

    Maybe if Blacks were the majority group in America and whites were the minority, brown dolls would have been chosen by white girls. Maybe white people would be better at reading brown facial expressions than brown people could read whites, because maybe the minority group unconsciously feels like it must anticipate the responses of the majority. This would make sense because if I was in a place where most people did not look like me, I might feel uncomfortable and nervous and try and anticipate the majority’s emotions and responses so as not to cause them to get mad at and gang up on me.

    Yes. I thought that this is how I live my life every day.

    Saying that white people are different from people is a misleading conclusion based on the evidence you showed. It sounds a bit racist, too, like you’re saying whites are less than human, when it may have less to do with race and more to do with the roles being played by a majority group and a minority group.

    I thought I emphasized in the other post that it’s not hard-wired. Why do people keep reading it in this way? Is it that you didn’t read the other post properly?

    As far as I know, this study did not factor in the context of those who participated in the study. Would white people who live in Chinatown, Spanish Harlem, Camden, D.C. or Baltimore have reacted differently? Were more conservatives involves than liberals?

    Actually, the white people in the study are from University of Toronto, Scarborough campus, which is a very racially-diverse school, and there are probably more non-white people than white people, since the demographics of Scarborough are more non-white than white.

    As far as I know, there was not a control group in this study.

    Don’t just say “there was not a control group”, if you don’t understand what is being compared to what. They didn’t just test how white people reacted to non-white people drinking water. They also tested how white people reacted to white people drinking water. Comparing the neural firing of the two groups, they found that white people’s neurons fired more for white people than people of colour. Do you get it? Do you understand what control groups are for? The purpose of controls is to isolate the variable, and the isolated variable is race. Another control was the blank screen, when you want to compare neural firing for people versus for a blank screen.


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