The Correlation between Race and Psychology

In the following paper, we will attempt to put light on the social psychology of race. We will also take a cultural approach and how it affects the identity and self. We will start with the most basic question: What is race?  We will try to understand how race is socially constructed phenomenon. We will also see how race is dynamic and malleable. We will also focus on the contemporary understanding of race. Historically, we have seen that racial discrimination and damages it has done to the society. In this paper I will write about why and how of the situation.

Let’s first try and understand what exactly race is, or what we mean when we use this term. Race is basically categorization of people largely by their skin colour. There also differences other than skin colour but mostly it is defined by the colour of the skin of the individual. Throughout history, these presumed biological differences is what justified the superiority of the white European colonizers over the dark skinned Africans and Asians who were colonised. But despite of the biological differences to defend racism, many social psychologists believe that race is more of a socially constructed phenomenon. In fact, genetic studies have found far more difference within the same racial groups than in between them which just goes to show that despite of the obvious biological difference which are on the surface, race has been created by people and societies.  It is also a possibility that because of the misunderstanding of race as a biological reality, the social construct came into being. 

Psychologists and sociologists say that race is not something that we are just born into. Another evidence that suggests that race is a socially constructed phenomenon is that there is no clear distinction between whites and non-whites. For instance, Irish, Italian, and Jewish Americans were largely considered non-white as late as the early twentieth century; Arab Americans were often categorized as white before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. We also see some cases of racial categories that existed in the past but do not anymore. There are also cases of new racial categories which have emerged very recently (e.g., Hapa in Hawaii; Hochschild et al. 2012). This just goes to show that racial categorization has very little to do with the biological or the differences in the physical appearances. The US office of management in 1978 had roughly 5 recognised racial categories and now it has moved on to more than 100 possible racial categories in 2010.  In recent times there have been a significant number of people who identify themselves as multiracial. They can also be referred to be as a mix race. Studies done on such multiracial individuals has show us that even individuals who have a mixed racial history have been classified or placed in the subordinate race. Non coloured individuals have been placed at the top in the racial order. This also shows the increase in the malleability over a period of time in racial categorisation.

It is very easily possible to fall prey to these assumption regarding race, mostly to the assumption that racial categorization is solely done based on the biological differences between individuals. The definition of the term biracial or multiracial is a child who has parents who belong to different races. This definition itself gives support to the assumption that races are determined biologically. It paints a picture as if there are air tight compartments, when reality is completely opposite. The presumption that there are two very biologically distinct racial categories that are recognised. All of this goes on to say that race is not a simple matter of appearances. It is much more complex than that.

Social Identity Theory

This theory gives us brilliant insights on how people use term as “we” and “they” while referring to certain people. This distinction while referring to someone is intended by whether the people who are being referred to belong to or include in their category of people. These are very casually used terms without fully understanding the multiple levels of damage. Classical research says that when you assign categories, even if it is assigned arbitrarily, can give rise to misconceptions and biases among people. Categorisation of individuals into groups has always been destructive for the groups who ranked lower in the chain. This is worse when people believe that this categorisation has been done on scientific and biological basis. Individuals often stick to these groups partly because they are pushed and partly because they then want to preserve the identity that they have. According to social identification theory, this categorisation then leads to ingroup favouritism because individuals are motivated to protect and affirm the self. Competition over seemingly scarce resources shifts intergroup biases from ingroup favouritism to those involving the derogation of competing outgroups.

Social Categorization

A second major approach to intergroup relations is the social categorization/group cognition approach. This approach says that individuals begin with an idea that individuals carve up the social world into meaningful categories. Unlike social identity theory, this approach does not say that the individuals have the necessity to have a belonging to their group. Instead, this approach offers a relatively “cold” cognitive understanding of intergroup relations. Research in this tradition has noted the rapid attention by race. Race and its institutionalised from has historically existed. Some people also see race as the basic category to perceive a human being just like age and sex. The evidence is clear that processes of visual attention track racial category memberships, and basic processes of face processing and evaluation are affected by race. Some of the most compelling research in this area has demonstrated the perilous implications of automatic stereotypical associations between black men and crime. This theory basically says that social cognition can result in stereotyping and discrimination.

Perceptions and Outcomes of racial diversity

In recent times, there have been multiple studies to study out people react in a interracial dyadic situations. Different studies also, which talk about how people experience at collective levels, that is in work place or neighbourhoods. Both of these lines of studies have been very helpful for us to understand race and take a microscopic look at it.  The first question to ask in assessing how people experience diversity is what it means for an entity to be racially diverse. When this question is posed to contemporary Americans, consensus emerges: Thoughts about diversity chiefly conjure thoughts about demographic minorities such as blacks, Latinos, and Asians. Although there are differences in the criteria used by different racial groups to access diversity. White Americans tend to base their assessment on simple numerical representation: The higher an entity’s percentage of racial minority members, the more diverse it is. Groups who are in minority are more sensitive to ingroup representation and have an entity which is perceived as more diverse. Hence, a black perceiver is likely to view a group that is 70% white, 20% black, and 10% Asian as more diverse than is an Asian perceiver. In addition, racial minorities are more likely than whites to require diversity at both high and low levels of an organization’s hierarchy in order to consider it diverse.

Effects of Racial diversity on individuals

Research suggests that the experience of diversity can engender different psychological outcomes than the experience of racial homogeneity. So, what is it that racial diversity does to individuals? It is all based on the level of your analysis. Research has also examined the potential outcomes if the contact between two groups belonging to different races increases.  In other words, racial diversity is thought to be important because it increases opportunities for individuals from different backgrounds to interact with and learn from one another and, in so doing, reduce the negative stereotypes and attitudes that often come from merely passively learning about each another (e.g., through media representation; Weisbuch et al. 2009). The evidence in favour of the benefits of interpersonal contact is indeed quite compelling (Brown & Hewstone 2005, Pettigrew & Tropp 2006), even when the “optimal conditions” originally outlined by Allport (1954)—equal status, cooperation, common goals, and support from relevant authorities—have not been met. Interestingly, research finds that the effects of contact on intergroup attitudes are larger for members of majority groups than members of minority groups. A great deal of recent research has also focused on the dynamics of interpersonal interactions between members of dominant and minority racial groups, examining such outcomes in terms of physiology.


To conclude, in this essay I have put light on what race is and how it is perceived by individuals. Race is a completely socially constructed phenomenon. But when I say this, I do not mean that there are absolutely no differences in the physical appearances between individuals. Also, I do not wish that people should blindly say that we all are the same when we clearly are not. Race exists. We need to acknowledge this fact, acknowledge the physical differences between individuals. I have also given evidence that even individuals who are belonging to two different traditional acclaimed racial groups. Race is a completely a social construct. I have also discussed on how this social construct determines individual actions. People have this need to stick to these constructs in order to protect their self and identity. Racial stereotyping and how cognition lead to it has also been mentioned in this essay. Effects and interactions and the studies 

07 April 2022
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