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Political Bent Affects How We View Skin Tone

November 23, 2009

Researchers from University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business presented findings from a study suggesting political affiliation affects how we view skin tone.

When presented digitally alter photos of then candidate Obama – who identifies as biracial – Liberals, who tend to align with his political ideology favored the lighter photo and Conservatives who tend to oppose his political leanings favored the darker photos when asked to select the photo best representing the candidate’s actual skin tone.

He and his colleagues took different photos of then-candidate Obama and digitally manipulated them to alter just the areas of exposed skin. “So we sort of isolated the head and the hands of Obama and altered the skin tone to make it relatively lighter in tone or relatively darker in tone,” Caruso says.

Hmmm, interesting.

The research team then showed the altered photos, plus the unaltered ones, one at a time to undergraduate students and asked them to rate the photos in terms of how representative they thought each photo was of the candidate. They researchers also questioned the students about their political views.

Liberal participants were most likely to rate a lightened photo of Obama as being most representative of him, while conservatives were most likely to say that about a photo that had been darkened, according to their findings published in a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

And these findings are surprising because…

That was true even after the researchers controlled for political views and measures of bias against blacks, says Caruso. “Assuming that people had equal levels of political conservativism,” he says, “the extent to which you rated the lightened photos as more representative was, over and above your ideology, also predictive of your voting intentions and your voting behavior.”

I am also having a little trouble understanding how you control for bias against blacks in a white supremacist society which has racism woven into the very fabric its very institutions and codified into its law, but okay.

The study’s result “goes along with sort of these cultural ideas that we have about things that are light versus things that are dark as being either good or bad, positive or negative,” says Keith Maddox, a psychology researcher at Tufts University who has studied how people perceive skin tone.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Good guys wear white. Purity, morality all qualities attributed to whiteness. Darkness, blackness all attributed to evil. Black moods, dark and stormy nights, devil’s food cake.

All participants were told that the candidate agreed with them on half of the issues. But when asked if that candidate would get their support, says Caruso, “lo and behold, those who saw a photo with darkened skin accompanying the candidate’s biography just a few minutes earlier reported that they were less likely to vote for this candidate.

Maybe now we’ll ease up on Sammy Sosa.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. redlami permalink*
    November 23, 2009 6:07 pm

    Wait, someone paid money to find out that in our society, people with lighter skin are more privileged?

  2. November 23, 2009 7:22 pm

    I want money to prove jumping into a pool of water makes you wet!

  3. Arwen permalink
    November 23, 2009 7:39 pm

    Holy shit. I am curious as to how this is affected by the skin colour of the participants; whether there’s been some improvement in internalization since the fifties and sixties.

  4. November 23, 2009 7:44 pm

    They seemed to suggest they controlled for that. That sounds like research talk for, “We didn’t want facts getting in the way of our good time!”

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