A recent study proves white people may possess a bias which causes them to associate black people with superhuman qualities, which may lead ultimately to dehumanization practices. Proof that their mentality towards Blacks is precluded by misconceptions and expressed with fear.
“A Superhumanization Bias in Whites’ Perceptions of Blacks,” published in the Journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, examines the idea that black people have been historically dehumanized, “from constitutional denial of full legal personhood to enslavement.”
In the first test– researchers Kelly Marie Hoffman and Sophie Trawalter, of the University of Virginia, and Adam Waytz, of Northwestern University, performed Implicit Association Tests. White participants were asked to associate certain words to images of a person. It was found that white people were more likely to link words commonly associated with the supernatural, (ghost, paranormal, spirit, wizard, supernatural, magic, mystical), to pictures of black people, and more likely to link “human words,” (person, individual, humanity, people, civilian, mankind, citizen), to pictures of white people, New York Magazine reported. These results remained consistent, even as researchers varied the experiments in order to rule out the possibility of bias.
In the second test — to account for the possibility that the bias in test one occurred in part because of White-Human associations as opposed to Black-Superhuman associations — the researchers used categorization tasks, again asking participants to quickly associate a word with an image, this time with more groupings, (Black/Human, Black/Superhuman, Black/Subhuman, White/Human, White/Superhuman, White/Subhuman), and asking participants to quickly sort words as belonging to a category based on the image of a face flashed on the screen. They found the same bias present as in study one.
The third test — was a bit more specific. In it, the participants were shown images of both a white person and a black person and were asked to choose which person they believed possessed a series of supernatural abilities. The questions included:
1. Which person is more likely to have superhuman skin that is thick enough that it can withstand the pain of burning hot coals?
2. Which person is more capable of using their supernatural powers to suppress hunger and thirst?
3. Which person is more capable of using supernatural powers to read a person’s mind by touching the person’s head?
4. Which person is more capable of surviving a fall from an airplane without breaking a bone through the use of supernatural powers?
5. Which personal has supernatural quickness that makes them capable of running faster than a fighter jet?
6. Which person has supernatural strength that makes them capable of lifting up a tank?
White people chose an image of a black person an overwhelming 63.5 % of the time for everything except for the abilities to survive a plane crash and read minds.
The final study — “specifically shows superhumanization of blacks predicts denial of pain to Black versus White targets.” The results suggest superhumanization of black individuals may contribute to the undertreatment of pain for black patients because they’re viewed as being able to endure more. (Which supports earlier research from the same authors that showed nurses of any race see black patients as less sensitive to pain than white patients.)
The authors assert superhumanization may also explain white tolerance for police brutality against black people. The authors of the study suggest that “perhaps people assume that blacks possess extra (superhuman) strength that enables them to endure violence more easily than other humans.” The authors say their results “might also explain why people consider Black juveniles to be more ‘adult’ than White juveniles when judging culpability.”
How is this bias reflected in American culture? Sportscasters discussing fast-twitch muscle fiber, stereotypes about genitalia, and phrases like “black don’t crack” are common.
The phenomenon has received virtually no empirical attention thus far, according to the authors, though the studies “demonstrate this phenomenon at an explicit level,” showing that “whites preferentially attribute superhuman capacities to blacks versus whites.”
And while imbuing a group of people with superhuman abilities might seem like a complimentary thing on the surface, the study contends this bias leads to dehumanization on the personal and political level.
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