My Research

Race and Nonverbal Social Cues

In this branch of research, my collaborators and I examine the interactive influence of a person's race and nonverbal behavior. Currently, we are investigating the interactive effects of race and body posture as expansive or constrictive.


Past research suggests that physical, psychological, or behavioral characteristics that contradict stereotypes of Blacks as threatening may reduce racial biases. Because expansive body posture cues perceptions of dominance and aggression, traits that are stereotypically applied to Blacks, whereas constructiveness cues oppose

these traits, we wondered whether constrictive posture could reduce racial bias. 

Results confirmed our expectations. Blacks in expansive postures were judged as more dominant, more aggressive, less warm, and less successful when compared to matched Whites in expansive postures. Blacks in expansive postures were also less likely to be chosen as partners for subsequent tasks when compared to expansive Whites. Importantly, however, when in constrictive body postures, racial biases between Blacks and Whites on these measures were significantly reduced or eliminated. We also found that for Whites, perceptions of dominance were positively related to perceptions of competence, but for Blacks, dominance and competence were unrelated. Also, perceptions of aggression were negatively related, and perceptions of warmth were positively related to competence significantly more for Blacks than Whites.  

Thus, the beginning stages of this research suggests that cues of dominance such as expansiveness may have different implications for Whites than Blacks and that constrictiveness may disarm Blacks by opposing perceptions of them as threatening.

Francine Karmali, PhD,

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