Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Physical Features and Racial Stereotyping

More disturbing news in the area of racial stereotyping. Researchers have recently concluded that when victims of capital crimes are white, black men are more likely to receive the death penalty if they have physical characteristics that are perceived as being stereotypically black.

The study was conducted by researchers at Cornell, Stanford, UCLA and Yale. Photographs of convicted criminals from 1979 - 1999 were shown to students who were then asked to rate the degree to which the men looked to be stereotypically black on a scale of 1 to 11. They were told they could base their judgments on "any number of features, including hair texture, skin tone and shape of lips and noses." Responses were then correlated with actual sentences to determine whether perceptions of racial features influenced dealth penalty decisions. Those who received the highest ratings for characteristically black features and whose victims were white received the greatest number of death penalty sentences.

This kind of unconscious bias seems to come up again and again. In the Human Resources area, we need to guard against this unknowingly affecting our hiring decisions, promotions and opportunities for employees to participate in various programs such as mentoring or high profile task forces. Of particular concern are the repeated studies that show that resumes with "black sounding" names are turned down for interviews more often than equally qualified resumes with "white sounding" names.

From a 2003 study by University of Chicago and MIT, resumes with white-sounding first names elicited 50 percent more responses than ones with black-sounding names.

The study on death sentences was published in the May issue of Psychological Science and is titled:
"Looking Deathworthy: Perceived Stereotypicality of Black Defendants Predicts Capital-Sentencing Outcomes."

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