J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008 Jun;94(6):1033-47.More:
Biological conceptions of race and the motivation to cross racial boundaries.
Williams MJ, Eberhardt JL.
Department of Psychology, University of California-Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org
The present studies demonstrate that conceiving of racial group membership as biologically determined increases acceptance of racial inequities (Studies 1 and 2) and cools interest in interacting with racial outgroup members (Studies 3-5). These effects were generally independent of racial prejudice. It is argued that when race is cast as a biological marker of individuals, people perceive racial outgroup members as unrelated to the self and therefore unworthy of attention and affiliation. Biological conceptions of race therefore provide justification for a racially inequitable status quo and for the continued social marginalization of historically disadvantaged groups. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2008 APA, all rights reserved).
PMID: 18505316 [PubMed - in process]
Human survival and well-being fundamentally depend on connections to other people. In the present research, we examine the extent to which people's conceptions of social groups determine which connections are most worthy of investment. Specifically, we investigate whether conceiving of racial group membership as biologically rooted determines to whom people attend and with whom they affiliate. We argue that a biological notion of race saps people's desire to reach out to members of racial groups that have been historically disadvantaged. These biological outgroup members ultimately are rendered, as a group and individually, less relevant to the self.
In the United States, race has traditionally been viewed in terms of biological essentialism—that is, race is understood to be a fundamental and stable source of division among humankind that is rooted in our biological makeup. More recently, however, some have come to see race as a social construct, initially created for purposes of maintaining a hierarchical social order but now a meaningful marker of cultural orientation, social identity, and experiences with discrimination (Smedley & Smedley, 2005).
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The purpose of the present research is not to determine which view is most accurate but instead to investigate the consequences of endorsing one conception over another.
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Less often have researchers investigated the role of people's evaluatively neutral beliefs in explaining reactions to racial disparities and the quality of interracial interactions. Beyond racial prejudice, in this article we investigate whether a simple belief that racial categories are biologically determined has the power to dampen people's motivation to engage with historically disadvantaged racial groups. Affiliating and engaging with others is a fundamental need. However, a biological conception of race may function as an affiliation cue that operates preferentially, such that people who hold this conception most desire to affiliate with those who are in their biological ingroup. That is, because people are more likely to direct their resources and attention to those whom they perceive as kin (Hamilton, 1964; Kruger, 2003; O'Gorman, Wilson, & Miller, 2005), they may direct their resources and attention to those within their racial ingroup when they view race as biological in nature.
We demonstrate in the present studies that individuals who understand race to be biologically derived are more accepting of racial inequities. They tend to understand racial inequities as natural, unproblematic, and unlikely to change (Study 1), a relationship that cannot be accounted for by racial prejudice. Moreover, an experimentally manipulated view of race as biological leads people to respond to racial inequities with less emotional engagement (Study 2). That is, they are not only less motivated to change racial inequities but also less concerned with and moved by such disparities. At the interpersonal level, we show that those with a biological conception of race maintain friendship networks that are less racially diverse (Study 3), have less desire to develop friendships across race lines (Studies 3 and 4), and are less interested in simply sustaining contact with a person of another race (Study 5) than are those with a social conception of race. Thus, we argue that a biological notion of race—beyond racial prejudice—sharpens associational preferences along race lines.