The Situationist

The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 25, 2008

Ann Conkle has an article, titled “Investigating Interracial Interactions,” (in the current APS Observer) summarizing Jennifer Richeson‘s presentation at the APS 20th Annual Convention at which Richeson described her remarkable research on interracial interactions.

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[Richeson] . . . presented her recent findings in the During an encounter between people of different races, if one or both parties are worried about the possibility of expressing or being thought to express prejudice, they may experience some level of anxiety or self-consciousness and may even induce physiological responses to stress, like an increased heart rate and constriction of blood vessels. These reactions can also be cognitively costly. After being primed with a racial situation, like discussing racial profiling with someone of a different race, study participants perform worse on the classic Stroop task. And those with higher bias perform even more poorly. Richeson believes that because they are aware of possible bias and dealing with physiological arousal, individuals must actively self-regulate during interracial interactions. This self-regulation uses cognitive resources and leads to depletion in other areas.

Richeson conducted two further studies to investigate these interactions. [More here.] . . .

In order to investigate what occurs in actual interactions, Richeson and collaborator Nicole Shelton, Princeton University, recruited black and white participants to take a race IAT and then engage in a 10-minute conversation about racial issues. White participants engaged in a conversation with another white participant or with a black participant. In same-race interactions, those with higher bias IAT scores were rated lower by their counterparts on likability. But, ironically, in interracial interactions, black participants liked higher-biased white participants more than lower-biased white participants and found them to be more engaged in the interaction. It seems that higher-biased individuals are aware that they could seem biased and so they self-regulate and in a sense turn on the charm to ensure that the interaction goes smoothly.

So, as Richeson said, the “intra-personal costs may come with inter-personal benefits.” Although it may seem like a positive thing that interracial interactions appear to go well, even when bias is involved, it should not overshadow the fact that interracial interaction is cognitively and physiologically draining. This could cause individuals, especially in those who are most biased, to avoid interracial interactions when possible, a situation which leads to less interracial interaction and undermines the interracial ideals to which our society aspires.

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The whole article is here. For some related Situationist posts, see “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.” To review all of the previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin or, for a list of such posts, click here.

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One Response to “The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions”

  1. [...] Provocative links and analysis here at the Situationist. [...]

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