Categorizing racially ambiguous individuals is multifaceted, and the current work proposes social-motivational factors also exert considerable influence on how racial ambiguity is perceived, directing the resolution of ambiguity in a manner that is functionally beneficial to the perceiver. Four studies tested two motivations related to social belonging: belonging needs and racial identification. Greater need to belong and racial identification (Study 1), and two types of social belonging threats — social exclusion (Studies 2a and 2b) and racial identity threat (Study 3) — predicted more categorizations of racially ambiguous Black/White faces as Black, with White participants more likely to categorize ambiguous faces as outgroup members (i.e., Black; Studies 1, 2a, 2b, and 3) and Black participants more likely to categorize ambiguous faces as ingroup members (Study 2b). Results also demonstrated that self-affirmation mitigated this motivated categorization for Whites (Study 3), illustrating the malleability of social categorization and its dependency on serving self-relevant goals.
Gaither, S.E., K. Pauker, Michael Slepian, and Samuel Sommers. "Social belonging motivates categorization of racially ambiguous faces." Social Cognition 34, no. 2 (2016): 97-118.
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