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Publication Date


Document Type

Honors Project




Race awareness, Stereotypes (Social psychology), Visual sociology, Visual perception, Visual perception-Cross-cultural studies, Visual racial identification, Visualizing race, Racial identity, Visual studies, Race studies, Quantitative, Race, Sociology


Visual racial identification is the cognitive social process whereby people categorize individuals into distinct racial groups based on their physical appearance. By deconstructing this behavior, it is possible to see that the way people "envision" race is shaped in part by dominant ideologies. I theorize that because dominant stereotypes can have the effect of depicting race groups as having a certain physical appearance (Lippman 1922), some racial minority groups may experience heightened stigmatization by society when they embody an image associating them with a stereotype. I hypothesize that physical features can act as signals of race in society, and it could be possible to identify them when a group of people who exhibit a common physical feature are automatically associated with a certain racial group. I tested this hypothesis by conducting a large-scale visual survey in which participants viewed a series of pictures of people and selected the racial identity into which each of the subjects could best be categorized. Then I analyzed the descriptive results to evaluate how the specific visual and social characteristics of the people depicted in the photographs (skin tone, hair color, hair texture, eye shape, attractiveness, gender, and makeup) were correlated with patterns of racial identification consistency. I found that for Asian, Black, and White individuals, skin tone was significant in predicting race. For Indians, Hispanics, and Middle Easterners, however, skin color functioned in a way that was racially confounding. Additionally, the results showed that although light hair colors are often associated with "Whiteness", darker hair did not have a considerable effect on how the subjects were categorized. Lastly, gender played a major role in the way the subjects' race was viewed, as the self-identified race for women was recognized at a decreased rate from men.




80 p. : col. ill. Honors project-Smith College, Northampton, Mass., 2012. Includes bibliographical references (p. 70-73)