These are images of skin tone used in the study.
Researchers Avi Ben-Zeev, Tara Dennehy, Robin Goodrich, Branden Kolarik and Mark Geisler

If you happen to be intellectually successful and black, your peers may remember your complexion as being a little bit lighter than it actually is, a new study published on Wednesday in SAGE Open has found.

The article, "When an 'Educated' Black Man Becomes Lighter in the Mind's Eye: Evidence for a Skin Tone Memory Bias," finds that instead of crushing stereotypes, educated black individuals may actually be remembered as "whiter" than they are and thus perceived as "exceptions to their race," enforcing perceptions about race and intelligence, Eureka Alert reports.

"When a Black stereotypic expectancy is violated (herein, encountering an educated Black male), this culturally incompatible information is resolved by distorting this person's skin tone to be lighter in memory and therefore to be perceived as "Whiter," the main researcher, Avi Ben-Zeev, writes in the study.

It’s what the authors refer to as "skin tone memory bias."

In the study, researchers Ben-Zeev, Tara Dennehy, Robin Goodrich, Branden Kolarik and Mark Geisler conducted a two-part experiment involving 160 university students, Eureka Alert notes. Participants were briefly subliminally exposed to either the word "ignorant" or the word "educated," followed immediately by a photograph of a black man's face. Then the same participants were shown seven photos of the same exact face—the original, along with three with darker complexions and three with lighter complexions—and were then asked to point out which one was the original.


Participants who were subliminally exposed to "educated" made more memory errors conditioned to lighter skin tones, often identifying even the lightest photo as being identical to the original, than those who were exposed to “ignorant.”

"Uncovering a skin tone memory bias, such that an educated Black man becomes lighter in the mind's eye, has grave implications," writes Ben-Zeev in the study, according to Eureka Alert. "We already know from past researchers about the disconcerting tendency to harbor more negative attitudes about people with darker complexions (e.g., the darker a Black male is, the more aggressive he is perceived to be). A skin tone memory bias highlights how memory protects this 'darker is more negative' belief by distorting counter-stereotypic Black individuals' skin tone to appear lighter and perhaps to be perceived as less threatening."

Read more at Eureka Alert.