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Research Overview

Skin Tone Bias: Racial Phenotypicality Bias

Many of us are familiar with vivid examples of racial bias -- negative treatment exhibited toward various individuals belonging to different racial categories. Incidents of bias between members of the same racial category are much less familiar, particularly when that bias is based on race-related phenotypic appearance. Many refer to this phenomenon as skin tone bias; beliefs about, attitudes toward, and treatment of individuals based on phenotypic facial appearance (skin tone, hair texture, nose width, and lip fullness). Individuals with features that are more Afrocentric (dark skin tone, coarse hair, broad noses, and full lips) are perceived more negatively – and stereotypically – than individuals with less Afrocentric features. Skin tone bias emerges among a variety of racial and ethnic groups around the world. In these societies lighter skin has been and continues to be valued over darker skin with multiple consequences for social, economic, and physical health outcomes. Black Americans have been a central focus of research.

My interest in this topic began with a realization that within-race stereotyping has both similarities and differences with across-race stereotyping, but has been virtually ignored by social psychological researchers. A great deal of research in social psychology has explored the antecedents and consequences of racial bias. In contrast, relatively little work has examined the role of within-race variation in phenotypic appearance. That is, until recently. I’ve attempted to re-introduce this topic to social psychology with the expectation that increased empirical scrutiny can elucidate the processes underlying skin tone bias and suggest remedies to mitigate its impact.