Washington, Mar 6 : They might not be overtly racist today, but many U.S. citizens still subconsciously link African Americans with apes, says a new study.
And that is the reason why people still use words and metaphors that slyly highlight a less-than-human bias and approve violence against Blacks.
The team of researchers led by Phillip Atiba Goff, assistant professor of psychology at Penn State conducted six studies of college-age students.
"Historical racist images and books dehumanizing African Americans in the 19th and early 20th century relied heavily on the Negro-ape metaphor, which was used to stereotype Blacks as lazy, dim and aggressive. Such dehumanization and animal imagery have been used for centuries to justify violence against many oppressed groups. The images have disappeared from popular culture and from most people's memory. However, after completing six studies, we found strong evidence that Black-ape linkages still influence people subconsciously and impact their judgment particularly in the case of African American suspects and defendants," said Goff.
It was found that the participants, even those with no stated prejudices or knowledge of the historical images, quickly linked Blacks with apes than they were to link Whites with apes.
For the first 3 studies the researchers flashed concealed Black or White male faces on a screen for a fraction of a second to "prime" the participants, who quickly identified blurry ape drawings after they were primed with Black faces than with White faces. They made the connection only with African American faces. However, the third study failed to find an ape association with other non-White groups, such as Asians.
In the fourth study it was shown that the implicit linkage can be subconscious for participants. In the fifth study, the researchers subliminally primed 115 White men with words associated with either apes (such as "monkey," "chimp," "gorilla") or big cats (such as "lion," "tiger," "cheetah"). Apes and big cats are associated with violence and Africa.
Later the subjects were made to watch a 2-minute video clip, depicting several police officers violently beating a man of undetermined race. A photo of either a White or a Black man was shown at the beginning of the clip to indicate who was being beaten. The students were then asked to rate how justified the beating was.
It was found that participants who thought the suspect was White were no more likely to disregard the beating when they were primed with either ape or big cat words. But those who thought the suspect was Black were more likely to justify the beating if they had been primed with ape words than with big cat words.
In the 6th study, the researchers showed that in hundreds of news stories from 1979 to 1999 in the Philadelphia Inquirer, African Americans convicted of capital crimes were about four times more likely than Whites convicted of capital crimes to be described with ape-relevant language, such as "barbaric," "beast," "brute," "savage" and "wild."
"While the explicit images of Blacks as apes have disappeared from the U.S. media, the images still may continue in coded language. Perhaps subtle metaphors that go largely unnoticed in the media continue to have great effect - and even be linked to life-and-death decisions," said the researchers.
Goff indicated " If you look at some political cartoons of Condoleezza Rice, Barack Obama and Colin Powell, you see that they are represented in ape-like caricatureIt is not explicit depiction and therefore not seen as offensive.
"But not seeing Blacks as humans leads to implicit - or subconscious - bias, leading to support of stereotyping and other forms of discrimination again African Americans. Old-fashioned prejudice involves deliberate action and beliefs. By studying implicit knowledge and how it functions, we can study the mechanisms in hopes of remedying dehumanization's savage consequences."
The study's findings are published in the paper, "Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequences," in a recent issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association.