Instead of curing deadly diseases like cancer, AIDS or racism, researchers at some of California’s top universities came together to explore one of the most mysterious subjects in the category of shit we already knew anyway—namely, that white people think all black people look the same.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a legitimate research journal, recently published “Neural Adaptation to Faces Reveals Racial Outgroup Homogeneity Effects in Early Perception,” a paper by scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University and the University of California, Riverside. The study investigated “the tendency to view members of social outgroups as interchangeable.” Basically, the researchers wanted to understand why people tend to not be able to differentiate between people outside their race. And they wanted to use science to do it.
But not really.
To test their hypothesis, the scientists—who somehow were awarded a grant for their work—examined the MRI brain results of people looking at images of faces of black people and white people. The authors of the experiment discovered that the face-recognition part of the brain showed more activity when the test subjects viewed a white face than when they viewed black faces. The subjects were also asked to rate the similarities between white faces and did the same with black faces. The subjects perceived larger differences when the faces were white but rated the black faces as somewhat similar to each other.
The researchers say the study is important because it seems to indicate that inaccurate perception can become a neurological reality when it is translated to the brain, which can lead to inaccurate witness statements and other biases.
“What it tells us is that our tendency to see members of our own [racial] group as individuals and de-individuate members of other racial groups, that is something that happens on sight,” co-author Nick Camp told the Guardian.
This all seems like a legitimate, scientific approach to understanding implicit biases in racial perceptions until you realize three caveats to the research:
- The test subjects only looked at white faces and black faces.
- Only 20 subjects participated in the study.
- They were all white.
So, even though the researchers contend that the study was about how “people” perceive “other-race faces,” it’s really a study about how a small group of white people’s brains can’t tell the difference between black people.
While this dumb experiment may seem like a waste of money, I’d like to focus on the positive aspects. From now on, when a white person says they “don’t see color,” we now have scientific proof that they are wrong. They actually do see color. But if the color they’re seeing is black, their brains don’t care about other individual differences.
Now that’s just science.