Face Values

Kevin Lewis

December 31, 2020

Why Public Health Framing Matters: An Experimental Study of the Effects of COVID-19 Framing on Prejudice and Xenophobia in the United States
Lindsay Dhanani & Berkeley Franz
Social Science & Medicine, forthcoming


The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a notable increase in the expression of prejudicial and xenophobic attitudes that threaten the wellbeing of minority groups and contribute to the overall public health toll of the virus. However, while there is evidence documenting the growth in discrimination and xenophobia, little is known about how the COVID-19 outbreak is activating the expression of such negative attitudes. The goal of the current paper therefore was to investigate what aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic may be contributing to this rise in expressions of prejudice and xenophobia. More specifically, this study used an experimental design to assess the effects of using stigmatized language to describe the virus as well as the threat to physical health and economic wellbeing posed by the virus on COVID-19 prejudice. Data were collected from a national sample of 1,451 adults residing within the United States. Results from 2 x 2 x 2 between-subjects analyses of covariance demonstrated that emphasizing the connection between China and COVID-19, rather than framing the virus neutrally, increased negative attitudes toward Asian Americans, beliefs that resources should be prioritized for Americans rather than immigrants, and general xenophobia. Emphasizing the severity of the economic impact of the virus also increased beliefs that Asian Americans are a threat to resources and general xenophobia. By contrast, messages which emphasized the serious health risks of COVID-19 did not increase racism or xenophobia. Our findings suggest that specific types of public health messaging related to infectious diseases, especially framing the virus in terms of its country of origin or its likely economic impact, may elicit prejudice and xenophobia. Public health campaigns that emphasize the severity of the virus, however, are not likely to trigger the same negative attitudes. Implications for public health responses to health crises are discussed.

Changes in Gender Stereotypes Over Time: A Computational Analysis
Nazlı Bhatia & Sudeep Bhatia
Psychology of Women Quarterly, forthcoming


We combined established psychological measures with techniques in machine learning to measure changes in gender stereotypes over the course of the 20th century as expressed in large-scale historical natural language data. Although our analysis replicated robust gender biases previously documented in the literature, we found that the strength of these biases has diminished over time. This appears to be driven by changes in gender biases for stereotypically feminine traits (rather than stereotypically masculine traits) and changes in gender biases for personality-related traits (rather than physical traits). Our results illustrate the dynamic nature of stereotypes and show how recent advances in data science can be used to provide a long-term historical analysis of core psychological variables. In terms of practice, these findings may, albeit cautiously, suggest that women and men can be less constrained by prescriptions of feminine traits.

Homophobia and the home search: Rental market discrimination against same-sex couples in rural and urban housing markets
Joshua Hellyer
Journal of Housing Economics, forthcoming


Previous research has found discrimination against same-sex couples in the rental housing market. However, no studies have tested in rural markets, even though anti-LGBT attitudes may be more prevalent there due to conservative social norms and less frequent contact with LGBT people. I study whether the rate of discrimination against same-sex couples differs between rural and urban rental housing markets. I use a matched correspondence test design, sending email inquiries about the availability of rental homes to 445 landlords in 28 markets posing as either a same-sex or opposite-sex couple. Results compare rates of positive response between these groups, suggesting that landlords do not respond at substantially different rates to inquiries from same-sex or opposite-sex couples in rural or urban markets, nor do response rates differ between states with anti-discrimination ordinances and those without.

Race, Dehumanization, and the NFL National Anthem Protests
Stephen Utych
Journal of Experimental Political Science, forthcoming


Dehumanizing language, or language used to describe human beings as non-human entities, is increasingly prevalent in political life. This dehumanization also occurs frequently in the world of sports. Sports and politics intersected notably in 2016, when Colin Kaepernick of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers started protesting the national anthem to raise awareness about police violence against African-Americans. Kaepernick’s protests generated considerable vitriol towards him and other protesters, some of which was dehumanizing. In this study, I examine how dehumanizing language used against anthem protesters of different races influences political attitudes. Using experimental data, I find that, when a Black player protesting the national anthem is dehumanized, White citizens are considerably less supportive of the anthem protests and protesters. This effect does not persist when the dehumanized player is White.

Neighborhood racial demographics predict infants’ neural responses to people of different races
Hyesung Hwang et al.
Developmental Science, forthcoming


Early in life, greater exposure to diverse people can change the tendency to prefer one’s own social group. For instance, infants from racially diverse environments show less preference for their own‐race (ingroup) over other‐race (outgroup) faces than infants from racially homogeneous environments. Yet how social environment changes ingroup versus outgroup demarcation in infancy is unclear. A commonly held assumption is that early emerging ingroup preference is based on an affective process: feeling more comfortable with familiar ingroup than unfamiliar outgroup members. However, other processes may also underlie ingroup preference: Infants may attend more to ingroup than outgroup members and/or mirror the actions of ingroup over outgroup individuals. By aggregating 7‐ to 12‐month‐old infants’ electroencephalography (EEG) activity across three studies, we disambiguate these different processes in the EEG oscillations of preverbal infants according to social environment. White infants from more racially diverse neighborhoods exhibited greater frontal theta oscillation (an index of top‐down attention) and more mu rhythm desynchronization (an index of motor system activation and potentially neural mirroring) to racial outgroup individuals than White infants from less racially diverse neighborhoods. Neighborhood racial demographics did not relate to White infants’ frontal alpha asymmetry (a measure of approach‐withdrawal motivation) toward racial outgroup individuals. Racial minority infants showed no effects of neighborhood racial demographics in their neural responses to racial outgroup individuals. These results indicate that neural mechanisms that may underlie social bias and prejudices are related to neighborhood racial demographics in the first year of life.

Facial Stereotype Bias Is Mitigated by Training
Kao-Wei Chua & Jonathan Freeman
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


People automatically infer others’ personality (e.g., trustworthiness) based on facial appearance, and such facial stereotype biases predict real-world consequences across political, legal, and business domains. The present research tested whether these biases can be mitigated through counterstereotype training aimed at reconfiguring the associations between specific facial appearances and social traits. Across six studies and a replication, a behavioral counterstereotype training consistently reduced or eliminated facial stereotype biases for White male faces in the context of economic trust games, hiring decisions, and even automatic evaluations assessed via evaluative priming. Together, the results demonstrate a fundamental malleability in facial stereotyping related to trustworthiness, with a minimal training able to mitigate the tendency to activate and apply long-held, highly automatized facial stereotypes. These findings suggest that face impressions are more flexible than typically appreciated, and they provide a potential inroad toward combating our ingrained biases based on facial appearance.

Man up and take it: Gender bias in moral typecasting
Tania Reynolds et al.
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, November 2020, Pages 120-141


Informed by moral typecasting theory, we predicted a gender bias in harm evaluation, such that women are more easily categorized as victims and men as perpetrators. Study 1 participants assumed a harmed target was female (versus male), but especially when labeled ‘victim’. Study 2 participants perceived animated shapes perpetuating harm as male and victimized shapes as female. Study 3 participants assumed a female employee claiming harassment was more of a victim than a male employee making identical claims. Female victims were expected to experience more pain from an ambiguous joke and male perpetrators were prescribed harsher punishments (Study 4). Managers were perceived as less moral when firing female (versus male) employees (Study 5). The possibility of gender discrimination intensified the cognitive link between women and victimhood (Study 6). Across six studies in four countries (N = 3,137), harm evaluations were systematically swayed by targets’ gender, suggesting a gender bias in moral typecasting.

Look the Part? The Role of Profile Pictures in Online Labor Markets
Isamar Troncoso & Lan Luo
University of Southern California Working Paper, October 2020


Freelancing platforms have gained tremendous popularity, connecting millions of employers and freelancers worldwide. We examine whether profile pictures on such platforms may facilitate hiring biases based on appearance-based perceptions of a freelancer's fit for the job (e.g., whether the applicant looks like a programmer). We collect data from for all jobs posted between January-June 2018 that ended in a contract, resulting in 79,038 jobs with 2,462,043 applications from 220,385 freelancers. Leveraging computer vision techniques, we find that freelancers with pictures perceived as high fit (or who ''look the part'') are more likely to be hired. More importantly, we show that such a bias goes above and beyond known prejudice variables such as demographics and attractiveness. Interestingly, we discover that ''looking the part'' complements rather than substitutes online reputation. We further conduct two experiments to explore the underlying mechanisms behind these findings. We find that when the reputation system is extremely positive, as in most freelancing platforms, employers use profile pictures as tiebreakers to choose among similar applicants. We also show that freelancers, especially those who ''do not look the part,'' may mitigate such biases by strategically selecting backgrounds and accessories in their profile pictures to enhance their chances of being hired.

Cultures of Fear: Individual Differences in Perception of Physical (but Not Disease) Threats Predict Cultural Neophobia in both Immigrant and Mainstream Americans
Nicholas Kerry, Zachary Airington & Damian R. Murray
Evolutionary Psychological Science, December 2020, Pages 335–345


Previous research indicates that dispositional worry about potential threats is associated with greater ingroup biases. However, the nature of this relationship within minority cultural groups, and the specificity of which threats matter most for this relationship, remain poorly understood. The current study thus aimed to build on existing work in three key ways: by simultaneously examining the effects of threat in both a mainstream and an immigrant population, by examining associations between threats and cultural practices and real-life interactions, and by addressing whether concerns about disease threats or physical threats were more robust predictors. Thus, we investigated the relative influence of physical- and disease-threat concerns for acculturation and ingroup preferences in both immigrant and non-immigrant Americans (N = 964, 171 immigrants). Immigrant Americans completed an acculturation survey in which their engagement with their heritage culture was compared with their engagement with mainstream American culture. Meanwhile, non-immigrant Americans responded to similar items assessing their engagement with US versus foreign cultural practices. Results indicated that dispositional worry about physical threats was associated with lower acculturation in immigrant participants, and lower engagement with foreign cultures in non-immigrant Americans. Further, in the combined sample, participants who were more concerned about physical threats were less likely to have had a romantic partner of a different ethnicity than their own. By contrast, dispositional worry about disease threat did not reliably predict cultural engagement or partner choice. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that physical-threat concern leads to less engagement with foreign cultures.

Race, Racial Negativity, and Competing Conceptions of American National Identity
John Graeber & Mark Setzler
American Politics Research, forthcoming


This study explores differences among African Americans, Latinos, and whites regarding which attributes are most important to being truly American and how these competing conceptions relate to an individual’s level of racial animus toward African Americans. Using nationally representative survey data, we first find that Americans of different races vary across six different components of national identity and do so in ways consistent with theorizing on symbolic racism and inter-group conflict. Specifically, Americans place more importance on those components shared with individuals of the same race. We then analyze how these differing beliefs about national identity influence racial animus. Here, we find robust evidence that individuals who prioritize the ascriptive, exclusive elements of national identity are more racist, while individuals who embrace its most inclusive element are less so. Finally, we reveal that the relationship between conceptions of national identity and racism is moderated substantially by race, and this robust relationship for whites and Latinos is virtually identical.

From likely to likable: The role of statistical typicality in human social assessment of faces
Chaitanya Ryali et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 24 November 2020, Pages 29371-29380


Humans readily form social impressions, such as attractiveness and trustworthiness, from a stranger’s facial features. Understanding the provenance of these impressions has clear scientific importance and societal implications. Motivated by the efficient coding hypothesis of brain representation, as well as Claude Shannon’s theoretical result that maximally efficient representational systems assign shorter codes to statistically more typical data (quantified as log likelihood), we suggest that social “liking” of faces increases with statistical typicality. Combining human behavioral data and computational modeling, we show that perceived attractiveness, trustworthiness, dominance, and valence of a face image linearly increase with its statistical typicality (log likelihood). We also show that statistical typicality can at least partially explain the role of symmetry in attractiveness perception. Additionally, by assuming that the brain focuses on a task-relevant subset of facial features and assessing log likelihood of a face using those features, our model can explain the “ugliness-in-averageness” effect found in social psychology, whereby otherwise attractive, intercategory faces diminish in attractiveness during a categorization task.

Authoritarianism and Social Dominance Predict Annual Increases in Generalized Prejudice
Danny Osborne et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


Although right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and social dominance orientation (SDO) are the two most studied individual difference correlates of prejudice, debate remains over their status as enduring constructs that precede generalized prejudice. We contribute to this discussion using 10 annual waves of longitudinal data from a nationwide random sample of adults to investigate the stability and temporal precedence of RWA, SDO, and prejudice among members of an ethnic majority group (Ns = 23,383–47,217). Results reveal high wave-to-wave rank-order stability for RWA, SDO, and generalized prejudice. Adjusting for their between-person stability, RWA and SDO predicted within-person increases in generalized prejudice. Results replicated when predicting (a) prejudice toward three specific minority groups (namely, Māori, Pacific Islanders, and Asians) and (b) anti-minority beliefs. These findings demonstrate that RWA and SDO are highly stable over 10 consecutive years and that they independently precede within-person annual increases in generalized prejudice and anti-minority beliefs.


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