Political partisanship colors perception of biracial candidates' skin tone

E. Caruso, N.L. Mead, E. Balcetis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

People tend to view members of their own political group more positively than members of a competing political group. In this article, we demonstrate that political partisanship influences people's visual representations of a biracial political candidate's skin tone. In three studies, participants rated the representativeness of photographs of a hypothetical (Study 1) or real (Barack Obama; Studies 2 and 3) biracial political candidate. Unbeknownst to participants, some of the photographs had been altered to make the candidate's skin tone either lighter or darker than it was in the original photograph. Participants whose partisanship matched that of the candidate they were evaluating consistently rated the lightened photographs as more representative of the candidate than the darkened photographs, whereas participants whose partisanship did not match that of the candidate showed the opposite pattern. For evaluations of Barack Obama, the extent to which people rated lightened photographs as representative of him was positively correlated with their stated voting intentions and reported voting behavior in the 2008 Presidential election. This effect persisted when controlling for political ideology and racial attitudes. These results suggest that people's visual representations of others are related to their own preexisting beliefs and to the decisions they make in a consequential context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20168-20173
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS)
Volume106
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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