Study finds clothing-based racist stereotypes persist against Black men

July 22, 2020

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Hardworking or lazy; trustworthy or dangerous: People often make assumptions about someone's character and personality based solely on how they're dressed.

A recent study from Oregon State University finds that while more formal clothing may deflect certain racially biased assumptions, many people still hold negative stereotypes about Black men based on what they're wearing.

In the study, college students at a Midwestern university were asked to look at photos of Black male student-athletes in different styles of clothing: championship T-shirts from their recent soccer victory; sweatpants and sweatshirts; and more formal button-down shirts and slacks.

Results showed that participants judged the models to be more hardworking and more intelligent when they were wearing formal attire than when they wore sweatpants.

"The main message is that clothing leads to snap judgments, to stereotyping," said Regan A.R. Gurung, a psychology researcher in OSU's College of Liberal Arts.

While certain types of clothing such as formal attire may "short-circuit" racist assumptions, that doesn't always work, he said.

"The issue here is that you've got to be aware of your stereotypes. What this paper does is it shows that even average people may have automatic responses to certain types of clothing," Gurung said. "Clearly, clothing will make a difference in some situations, but sometimes people are so racist that the clothing doesn't even make a difference."

The study also tested participants' underlying racism by asking their opinion on statements like "Over the past few years, minority groups have gotten less than they deserve" and "How much of the racial tension that exists in the United States today do you think minority groups are responsible for creating?"

Results showed that participants' existing levels of racism had significant influence on how they perceived the Black male models: Students who displayed higher levels of racism rated the models much lower on positive characteristics and much higher on negative characteristics. This is in line with previous studies on the subject, researchers said.

Stereotypes are part of how humans process the world, Gurung said: Because we process so much information, we rely on stereotypes to categorize people so we don't have to start from scratch all the time.

According to social psychology, "We are cognitive 'misers.' We try to limit how much thinking we have to do, just to survive. ...And when we are tired, we rely on stereotypes more," he said.

Conditioning also plays a major role, as media representation teaches us to associate certain characteristics with specific types of clothing.

The onus is therefore on the perceiver to analyze their own stereotypes and conditioning and work to resist making snap judgements, Gurung said.

Researchers were surprised by results that showed no improvement in perception of the Black models wearing their soccer championship shirts.

"We really thought, 'Man, this should be the best category.' What's disheartening is that, even showing this clear evidence of success, of competence, it still did not shake stereotypes," Gurung said.

The authors note that before extending these findings to men and women of other races, further work with models of diverse races and genders is needed.

The participant pool was predominantly white, but the demographics mostly matched the demographics of the U.S. as a whole and the results align with previous studies on the subject, Gurung said. The research team is also preparing to replicate the same study in Oregon.

The fact that the participant pool represented the average college student mindset was troubling, Gurung said.

"We're not looking at extreme groups of people here; we're looking at a randomly sampled group of individuals. And if this is what we're seeing from a randomly sampled group of individuals, then it just scares you to think -- what about people who are explicitly racist?" he said.

Oregon State University

Related Stereotypes Articles from Brightsurf:

Stereotypes and discrimination contribute to HIV-related stigma among nursing staff
To describe the attitudes of the university nursing faculty toward caring for PLHIV; and to identify the relationship between faculty attitudes and explanatory factors such as age, education, religion, nationality, teaching in a clinical setting, years of experience, and university attributes.

Pregnancy stereotypes can lead to workplace accidents
A study of pregnant women in physically demanding jobs found that their fears of confirming stereotypes about pregnant workers as incompetent, weak or less committed to their job could drive them to work extra hard, risking injury.

Effects of gender bias, stereotypes in surgical training
This randomized clinical trial investigated the association between pro-male gender bias and negative stereotypes against women during surgical residency on surgical skills and proactive career development of residents in general surgery training programs.

Do girls read better than boys? If so, gender stereotypes may be to blame
A new longitudinal study of fifth and sixth graders in Germany examined the relation between classmates' gender stereotypes and individual students' reading outcomes to shed light on how these stereotypes contribute to the gender gap in reading.

Bad behavior between moms driven by stereotypes, judgment
Mothers are often their own toughest critics, but new Iowa State University research shows they judge other mothers just as harshly.

Even scientists have gender stereotypes ... which can hamper the career of women researchers
However convinced we may be that science is not just for men, the concept of science remains much more strongly associated with masculinity than with femininity in people's minds.

Study: Some stereotypes seem to be universally applied to biracial groups in the US
A new Northwestern University study has found evidence that there are some stereotypes that seem to be universally applied to biracial groups in the U.S.

In fiction young people choose traditional love and gender stereotypes
Fictional television series can have an influence on the construction of young people's identities and values.

Stereotypes of romantic love may justify gender-based violence
The media have become key agents of socialization in the construction of teenagers' and young people's identities.

Us vs. them: Understanding the neurobiology of stereotypes
In a review published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Science, Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, PhD, and colleagues describe how non-invasive brain stimulation -- a technique he and others have pioneered to unlock the secrets of the brain -- could shed light on the neurobiology underlying implicit bias.

Read More: Stereotypes News and Stereotypes Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to