A “Black-Sounding” Name Makes Whites Assume a Larger, More Dangerous Person

uclaResearchers at the University of California, Los Angeles gave participants in a study a short essay describing men in a scenario where they walked into a bar, bumped into another man and got into a brief confrontation. A third of the participants were given a “neutral” version of the story. A third of the participants were given added information that the man in the story was a college graduate and successful in business. The final group was told that the character in the story had been convicted of aggravated assault.

The main character of the story was either given a name usually associated with Whites such as Wyatt or Garrett or a name generally considered to be Black such as DeShawn or Darnell.

Participants were then asked to give an assessment of the character’s height, build, status, aggressiveness and other factors.

The results showed that White and Black characters who were either successful or convicted of aggravated assault were perceived similarly. But participants who were given the “neutral” scenario perceived the Black characters to be similar in size and aggressiveness to the White character with a criminal record.

Daniel Fessler, a professor of anthropology and the director of the Center for Behavior, Evolution and Culture at UCLA and coauthor of the study, said that the larger the participants imagined the characters with Black-sounding names, the lower they envisioned their financial success, social influence and respect in their community. Conversely, the larger they pictured those with White-sounding names, the greater they envisioned their status.

Colin Holbrook, a research scientist in anthropology at UCLA and lead author of the study, stated that “the amount that our study participants assumed based only on a name was remarkable. A character with a Black-sounding name was assumed to be physically larger, more prone to aggression, and lower in status than a character with a White-sounding name.”

“I’ve never been so disgusted by my own data,” Holbrook added.

The study, “Looming Large in Others’ Eyes: Racial Stereotypes Illuminate Dual Adaptations for Representing Threat Versus Prestige as Physical Size,” was published on the website of the journal Evolution & Human Behavior. It may be accessed here.

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  1. Dr. Holbrook, why should you or anyone else for that matter even be remotely surprised with the findings in your study? It’s quite obvious that you been mis-educated about the intensity and realities of American racism in the twenty-first century. Further, what really needs to be examined is who determines what a “Black sounding name”? Was there some sort of national vote taken in the White or Black community? The fact remains, the United States is an implicitly racist country because it consistently penalizes a group of people[i.e., native born Blacks] who literally built this country on numerous levels and way.

    My suggestion to you Dr. Holbrook is conduct a examining those who have a “White sounding name” in an effort to see there’s any correlation between that name and the probability to participate in: (1) insider stock trading, (2) create viruses to eradicate ‘certain groups’ of people, (3) pedophilia, (4) the overthrowing of nation-states whose leaders you disagree with, (5) the creation of criminal justice law that severely punish those whom you identify as the ‘other’, or (6) creation of examinations based upon a Eurocentric standards and culture.

    Until intellectually honest scholars began to study Whites and their racist ideology, one should not be surprised in the manner it treats and responds to people who are ‘identified’ as being Black. What about those who have Jewish, Latino, Asian, Western Eastern Europe, or Middle Eastern (actually, Western Asia) names? Are they treated similarly within a US context?

  2. In my view, UCLA is becoming more and more of an higher education contradiction based upon the behavior of many of its White students and their incessant “blackface and Ghetto” parties. It’s quite obvious that Black faculty and the few Black students are still being treated as third class citizens.

    What I find rather interesting about UCLA and the majority of HWCUs for that matter is the same White students, faculty, and administrators who have a propensity to treat Black faculty, students, and staff disparately will easily for cheer for the Black football and basketball players.

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