Kevin Lewis

August 12, 2021

The politics of identity: The unexpected role of political orientation on racial categorizations of Kamala Harris
Debbie Ma, Danita Hohl & Justin Kantner
Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, forthcoming


The 2020 US Presidential election was historic in that it featured the first woman of color, Kamala Harris, on a major-party ticket. Although Harris identifies as Black, her racial identity was widely scrutinized throughout the election, due to her mixed-race ancestry. Moreover, media coverage of Harris's racial identity appeared to vary based on that news outlet's political leaning and sometimes had prejudicial undertones. The current research investigated racial categorization of Harris and the role that political orientation and anti-Black prejudice might play in shaping these categorizations. Studies 1 and 2 tested the possibility that conservatives and liberals might mentally represent Harris differently, which we hypothesized would lead the two groups to differ in how they categorized her race. Contrary to our prediction, conservatives and liberals mentally represented Harris similarly. Also surprising were the explicit racial categorization data. Conservatives labeled Harris as White more than liberals, who tended to categorize Harris as multiracial. This pattern was explained by anti-Black prejudice. Study 3 examined a potential political motivation that might explain this finding. We found that conservatives, more than liberals, judge having a non-White candidate on a Democratic ballot as an asset, which may lead conservatives to deny non-White candidates these identities.

Race and social class as intersecting social categories: An analysis of implicit and explicit attitudes
Samantha Moore-Berg & Andrew Karpinski
Social Psychology, forthcoming


Race and social class are inherently confounded; however, much of the literature focuses on only one of these categories at a time during attitude assessment. Across three studies, we examined the influence of race and social class on implicit and explicit attitudes. Results indicated that participants had more positive attitudes toward high social class White and high social class Black people than low social class White and low social class Black people. Attitudes for high social class White versus high social class Black people and low social class White versus low social class Black people were more nuanced and attitude/measure dependent. Thus, this research highlights the intricacy of attitudes when considering intersectional categories.

Bullshit Ability as an Honest Signal of Intelligence
Martin Harry Turpin et al.
Evolutionary Psychology, May 2021


Navigating social systems efficiently is critical to our species. Humans appear endowed with a cognitive system that has formed to meet the unique challenges that emerge for highly social species. Bullshitting, communication characterised by an intent to be convincing or impressive without concern for truth, is ubiquitous within human societies. Across two studies (N = 1,017), we assess participants’ ability to produce satisfying and seemingly accurate bullshit as an honest signal of their intelligence. We find that bullshit ability is associated with an individual’s intelligence and individuals capable of producing more satisfying bullshit are judged by second-hand observers to be more intelligent. We interpret these results as adding evidence for intelligence being geared towards the navigation of social systems. The ability to produce satisfying bullshit may serve to assist individuals in negotiating their social world, both as an energetically efficient strategy for impressing others and as an honest signal of intelligence.

Parsing the Mechanisms Underlying Ingroup Facial Resemblance
Thora Bjornsdottir et al.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


People prefer to form relationships with people like themselves — a tendency that extends even to facial appearance, resulting in groups whose members look alike. Here, we investigated the mechanisms underlying homophilic resemblance using facial photos of fraternity/sorority members from two time points: before joining the group and after belonging to the group for three years. Analyses of both subjective trait impressions and objective face-shape measurements revealed that not only did group members look alike, they resembled one another even before joining the group. Moreover, photos of potential fraternity recruits revealed that facial appearance predicted both the group that individuals sought to join and the group’s likelihood of accepting them. Individuals, therefore, seek to join groups consisting of people who look like them, and the groups preferentially accept new members who resemble those already in the group. This bidirectional preference for homophily likely perpetuates intragroup homogeneity, suggesting potential implications beyond appearance.

What We Teach About Race and Gender: Representation in Images and Text of Children’s Books
Anjali Adukia et al.
NBER Working Paper, August 2021


Books shape how children learn about society and social norms, in part through the representation of different characters. To better understand the messages children encounter in books, we introduce new artificial intelligence methods for systematically converting images into data. We apply these image tools, along with established text analysis methods, to measure the representation of race, gender, and age in children’s books commonly found in US schools and homes over the last century. We find that more characters with darker skin color appear over time, but "mainstream" award-winning books, which are twice as likely to be checked out from libraries, persistently depict more lighter-skinned characters even after conditioning on perceived race. Across all books, children are depicted with lighter skin than adults. Over time, females are increasingly present but are more represented in images than in text, suggesting greater symbolic inclusion in pictures than substantive inclusion in stories. Relative to their growing share of the US population, Black and Latinx people are underrepresented in the mainstream collection; males, particularly White males, are persistently overrepresented. Our data provide a view into the "black box" of education through children’s books in US schools and homes, highlighting what has changed and what has endured.

Sexual Language Use in U.S. College Students Across Twenty Years
Sarah Murnen et al.
Archives of Sexual Behavior, July 2021, Pages 2189–2201


Study 1: Students (N = 256 women, 129 men, and 13 nonbinary individuals, 61.8% heterosexual) from the same college campus studied 20 years ago (Murnen, 2000) reported on terms they used to refer to male genitals, female genitals, and “having sex” either within the context of an intimate partnership, talking with friends of their gender, or talking with friends in a mixed-gender group. Terms for genitals were coded as degrading or not, and terms for sex as aggressive or not, based on the previous study. Whereas in the past almost three-quarters of men used a degrading term for female genitals, that amount decreased to about one-quarter in the present sample. On the other hand, among women there was a significant increase in the use of a degrading term for women’s genitals in the intimate partner context, particularly among sexual minority women. Degrading and aggressive language use was predicted by pornography use and endorsement of gender stereotyped sexual attitudes. Study 2: Interpretations of sexual terms were studied among 29 sexual minority women, 81 heterosexual women, 16 sexual minority men, and 54 heterosexual men. We found that few terms were perceived as degrading or aggressive today (unlike 20 years ago) and that students believe that societal changes such as sexual education and the #MeToo movement were perceived as responsible for changes in sexual language use.

Beyond Aesthetic Judgment: Beauty Increases Moral Standing Through Perceptions of Purity
Christoph Klebl, Yin Luo & Brock Bastian
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


Researchers have tended to focus on mind perception as integral to judgments of moral standing, yet a smaller body of evidence suggests that beauty may also be an important factor (for some people and animals). Across six studies (N = 1,662), we investigated whether beauty increases moral standing attributions to a wide range of targets, including non-sentient entities, and explored the psychological mechanism through which beauty assigns moral standing to targets. We found that people attribute greater moral standing to beautiful (vs. ugly) animals (Study 1 and Study 5a, preregistered) and humans (Study 2). This effect also extended to non-sentient targets, that is, people perceive beautiful (vs. ugly) landscapes (Study 3) and buildings (Study 4 and Study 5b, preregistered) as possessing greater moral standing. Across all studies, perceptions of purity mediated the effect of beauty on moral standing, suggesting that beauty increases the moral standing individuals place on targets through evoking moral intuitions of purity.

The hidden cost of humanization: Individuating information reduces prosocial behavior toward in-group members
Victoria Lee et al.
Journal of Economic Psychology, forthcoming


This paper reports robust experimental evidence that humanization — in the form of individuating information about another’s personal preferences — leads to decreased prosocial behavior toward in-group members. Previous research shows that this information increases prosocial behavior toward dehumanized out-group members. The consequences for in-group members, however, are less well understood. Using methods from social psychology and behavioral economics, four experiments show that individuating information decreases pro-social behavior toward in-group members in a variety of settings (charitable giving, altruistic punishment, and trust games). Moreover, this effect results from decreased reliance on group membership labels, and not from other potential explanations like the induction of new group identities. Understanding these effects sheds light on the motives behind intergroup conflict, which may not result from a difference in social perception (i.e., humanized in-groups and dehumanized out-groups), but rather from biases associated with group membership (i.e. in-group favoritism and out-group discrimination) that are eliminated by individuating information. Together, these results indicate that humanization carries a hidden cost for in-group members by disrupting group identities that would otherwise make them targets of altruistic actions.

Cardiovascular and cortisol responses to experimentally-induced minority stress
David Huebner et al.
Health Psychology, May 2021, Pages 316–325

Method: LGB adults (n = 141; 51% male, 49% female) participated in a social stress task in which they were interviewed by a prerecorded confederate. Participants were randomized to receive information that their interviewer held either antigay or progay social/political beliefs. Cardiovascular reactivity and salivary cortisol were assessed at baseline, during the task, and during recovery.

Results: All participants experienced significant task-related increases in heart rate (HR), systolic blood pressure (SBP), and diastolic blood pressure (DBP). However, participants in the antigay condition had greater increases in HR and SBP during the task and smaller decreases in SBP during recovery. Salivary cortisol increased significantly only in the antigay condition. High frequency heart rate variability (hfHRV) was constant throughout the stress task for participants in the progay condition but decreased significantly during the task for participants in the antigay condition.

Confirmation of Interpersonal Expectations is Intrinsically Rewarding
Niv Reggev, Anoushka Chowdhary & Jason Mitchell
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, forthcoming


People want to interact successfully with other individuals, and they invest significant efforts in attempting to do so. Decades of research have demonstrated that to simplify the dauntingly complex task of interpersonal communication, perceivers predict the responses of individuals in their environment using stereotypes and other sources of prior knowledge. Here, we show that these top-down expectations can also shape the subjective value of expectation-consistent and expectation-violating targets. Specifically, in two neuroimaging experiments (n = 58), we observed increased activation in brain regions associated with reward processing — including the nucleus accumbens — when perceivers observed information consistent with their social expectations. In two additional behavioral experiments (n = 704), we observed that perceivers were willing to forgo money to encounter an expectation-consistent target and avoid an expectation-violating target. Together, these findings suggest that perceivers value having their social expectations confirmed, much like food or monetary rewards.

Neural correlates of ingroup bias for prosociality in rats
Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal et al.
eLife, July 2021


Prosocial behavior, in particular helping others in need, occurs preferentially in response to distress of one’s own group members. In order to explore the neural mechanisms promoting mammalian helping behavior, a discovery-based approach was used here to identify brain-wide activity correlated with helping behavior in rats. Demonstrating social selectivity, rats helped others of their strain (‘ingroup’), but not rats of an unfamiliar strain (‘outgroup’), by releasing them from a restrainer. Analysis of brain-wide neural activity via quantification of the early-immediate gene c-Fos identified a shared network, including frontal and insular cortices, that was active in the helping test irrespective of group membership. In contrast, the striatum was selectively active for ingroup members, and activity in the nucleus accumbens, a central network hub, correlated with helping. In vivo calcium imaging showed accumbens activity when rats approached a trapped ingroup member, and retrograde tracing identified a subpopulation of accumbens-projecting cells that was correlated with helping. These findings demonstrate that motivation and reward networks are associated with helping an ingroup member and provide the first description of neural correlates of ingroup bias in rodents.

Racial preferences in sexual attraction among White heterosexual and gay men: Evidence from sexual arousal patterns and negative racial attitudes
Kevin Hsu, Ryan Lei & Galen Bodenhausen
Psychophysiology, forthcoming


Racial preferences in sexual attraction are highly visible and controversial. They may also negatively impact those who are excluded. It is unclear whether these preferences are merely self-attributed or extend to patterns of experienced sexual arousal. Furthermore, some argue that racial preferences in sexual attraction reflect idiosyncratic personal preferences, while others argue that they are more systematically motivated and reflect broader negative attitudes toward particular races. In two studies, we examined these issues by measuring the sexual arousal patterns and negative racial attitudes of 78 White men in relation to their racial preferences in sexual attraction to White versus Black people. For both White heterosexual men (n = 40; Study 1) and White gay men (n = 38; Study 2), greater racial preferences in sexual attraction to White versus Black people of their preferred gender were associated with more subjective and genital arousal by erotic stimuli featuring White versus Black people of their preferred gender, and with more explicit and implicit negative attitudes toward Black people. Findings suggest that racial preferences in sexual attraction are reflected in patterns of sexual arousal, and they might also be systematically motivated by negative attitudes toward particular races.

Mnemic Neglect for Behaviors Enacted by Members of One’s Nationality Group
Bettina Zengel et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, September 2021, Pages 1286-1293


People exhibit impaired recall for highly self-threatening information that describes them, a phenomenon called the mnemic neglect effect (MNE). We hypothesized that the MNE extends to recall for information that highly threatens an individual’s important in-group identity. We tested our hypothesis in two experiments in which participants read behaviors depicted as enacted by either in-group members (Experiment 1 = American and Experiment 2 = British) or out-group members (Andorrans). Participants recalled identity-threatening behaviors poorly when enacted by in-group members but not when enacted by out-group members. Additional results evinced in-group favoritism in (1) evaluations of the two groups and (2) trait judgments made from the behaviors, but only on traits central to the self. Finally, mediational analyses suggested that the group-driven memory differences are plausibly due to the global between-group evaluation differences but not the perceived between-group trait judgment differences.


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