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My Research

Responses to Outgroup Racism

How would you respond if you heard someone say something racist? The way we respond could have major implications for the perpetuation racism. If we respond to expressions of prejudice with disapproval we may deter future incidents, but if we ignore prejudice we could be tacitly condoning it. 

In a series of studies, my colleagues and I have been examining responses to racism among nontarget witnesses and whether people can accurately predict their responses. Our findings revealed that people are poor predictors of their future reactions to racism. Although people expect to be upset and to distance themselves from a racist, when actually put in a scenario in which a racist slur is uttered, people often reported no emotional upset and often chose to work with the racist for an upcoming partner task (Kawakami, Dunn, Karmali & Dovidio, 2009). Follow-up studies using physiological and cognitive measures corroborated previous findings; witnesses of a racist comment displayed no signs of distress or emotional upset and again, often chose to partner-up with the racist (Karmali, Kawakami, & Page-Gould, 2017).

Our most recent work in this area begins to tackle the question of why people so often chose to work with a racist - do they like the racist, or are they avoiding the Black target? Preliminary work suggests that rather than preferring the racist, negative stereotypes of blacks may deter people from siding with the target during incidents of racism.   


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.

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