Race is Still Black and White: Voluntary Racial Phenotypic Change Elicits Meaning Threat and Backlash

  •  Jordan Seliger    
  •  Avi Ben-Zeev    


We offer evidence that a target who voluntarily changes his/her racial phenotypic features causes perceivers to engage in two-pronged social policing of racial group boundaries: (a) vilifying and disliking the target (cognitive and affective backlash; external policing) (Experiments 1a-1b, 2, & 3) and (b) increasing own racial essentialism, in response to a meaning threat (internal policing) (Experiment 3). In all experiments, participants received a vignette of a protagonist that underwent non-elective surgery (white/Asian, Experiments 1a-1b; white/Black, Experiments 2-3). In the voluntary change condition, the protagonist asks that the surgeon change his/her racial features to resemble that of a different race whereas, in the involuntary change condition the protagonist asks that the surgeon keep his/her racial features intact (Experiment 1: eye shape, Experiment 2: Afrocentric features). Findings supported the predictions and showed a dissociation between similarity and categorization judgments, underscoring the essentialized versus socially constructed nature of beliefs about race.

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