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Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2004;8(4):383-401.

Perspectives on racial phenotypicality bias.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, USA.


This article reviews research examining racial phenotypicality bias--within-category stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination based on race-related phenotypic characteristics of the face. A literature review of research examining skin tone bias, drawing largely from work examining perceptions of Blacks in the United States, reveals that individuals with features typical of members of their racial category are perceived and treated more negatively by social perceivers. Furthermore, this treatment has broad implications for social status and health. Despite this evidence, the tendency to attend to and use within-race variation in phenotypic appearance has been overlooked in social psychological models of impression formation. However, several theoretical frameworks have recently been proposed to explain the role of phenotype-based expectancies in social representation and judgment. Drawing on the strengths of each perspective, a rudimentary model of racial phenotypicality bias is proposed. This analysis suggests that future examinations guided by the current framework (or similar others) can complement existing evidence toward a greater understanding of the role of phenotypic variation in social perception.

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