PerspectivePsychology

Racial Bias, Unspoken But Heard

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Science  18 Dec 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5960, pp. 1641-1642
DOI: 10.1126/science.1184231

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Summary

Nonverbal behavior is a powerful form of social influence. People can abstract accurate meaning from even very brief exposures to nonverbal behavior—a facial expression or subtle body language, for example (1). Across cultures, the ability to understand nonverbal messages occurs quickly; even infants and toddlers demonstrate this capacity. Moreover, nonverbal signals can be especially effective in transmitting social attitudes because they can be spontaneously understood with minimal effort and are perceived as a source of valid information. On page 1711 of this issue, Weisbuch et al. (2) examine how racial prejudice can be covertly spread and reinforced, and propose that in American society, negative nonverbal behavior modeled by white individuals in popular media critically shapes white viewers' orientations toward black individuals [see (3) for how race was determined in the study].