Monday 3 December 2018

Research Bulletin: Stories and Race Perception

The notable rise of multiracialism in Western countries has made it crucial for society to develop tools that facilitate the understanding of individuals who are different from us. One such tool is narrative fiction, which can induce story-consistent behaviour and reduce out-group mentality by challenging our underlying beliefs and assumptions. Johnson, Huffman and Jasper (2014) examined this possibility by conducting a study that examined whether reading narrative fiction could affect racial boundary perceptions (i.e., the boundary at which a mixed-race face is perceived as belonging to one race or another).

In their first experiment, individuals were randomly assigned to either the narrative condition or the synopsis condition. In the narrative condition, the participants read an excerpt of Saffron Dreams by Shaila Abdullah, which is about a courageous Muslim woman who stands up to a series of religious attacks and racial slurs. In the synopsis condition, participants read a summary of the same excerpt that was devoid of its original narrative qualities. After exposure to either of the two conditions, all participants viewed mixed-race Arab-Caucasian faces and were asked to categorize them as mixed-race, Arab, or Causcasian. Their second experiment was very similar, but with an additional control condition in which people read a brief history of the automobile. Also different in this second study, was that all of the faces were expressing low to moderate levels of anger.

In support of their hypotheses, for the first experiment individuals in the full narrative condition saw the two races as more similar and were more likely to perceive the faces as being mixed-race as opposed to strictly Arab or Caucasian.  In the second experiment, participants in the full narrative condition were less likely to disproportionately categorize moderately angry faces as Arab. Based on these results, it seems that stories about race might have a positive effect on racial perception.


Johnson, D. R., Huffman, B., & Jasper, D. (2014). Changing race boundary perception by reading narrative fiction. Basic and Applied Social Psychology36, 83-90.

Post by Alma Rahimi

* For a copy of the original article, please contact R. Mar (see profile for e-mail).
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