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Title:Essentializing Race: Its Implication to Social Categorization and Racial Perception
Author(s):Chao, Manchi
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hong, Ying-Yi
Department / Program:Psychology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Psychology, Social
Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies
Abstract:Essentialist theories of race are the beliefs that racial groups possess distinctive essence that is unchangeable and is indicative of abilities and traits. Previous research that examined essentialism and intergroup perceptions yielded mixed findings. Whereas some studies showed that believing in fixed and immutable group characteristics were associated with negative intergroup perceptions, these associations were not consistently found in other studies. The purpose of the current paper is to resolve this apparent inconsistency in the literature. Taking a cognitive approach, this paper began by examining the association between basic categorization processes and the two different components of essentialized group perceptions---immutability and inductive potential. It then investigated how the two essentialism factors interplayed with the social contexts to shape intergroup perceptions.
I posited that the inductive potential element would be associated with discrete racial perceptions, leading individuals to see the social groups as having clear cut boundaries and to make racial inferences based on partial information; however, the associations between the immutability component and racial categorization are less clear because an immutable group membership (e.g., based on eye color) does not render the group membership an informative judgment dimension. Consistent with these ideas, I hypothesized and found that individuals who endorsed inductive potential of race would be more likely to represent racial groups as discrete and exclusive categories (Study 1) and would be more sensitive to cues and categorization rules that define racial group membership (Study 2).
Putting this categorization process into social context, I further argued and found support to the idea that categorization is a basic psychological process that does not carry any positive or negative connotation by default. Individuals who endorsed inductive potential of race were more likely to categorize along racial line because they see race as an informative dimension to understand their social world; thus, whether such categorization process would lead to positive or negative intergroup attitudes would depend on the environmental inputs (Study 3).
More importantly, most of the existing research tended to focus on the impact of essentialist beliefs among the majority groups (e.g., White in the U.S.), the current study investigated whether and when these basic psychological processes can be generalized among groups with different ingroup-outgroup and majority-minority statuses; thus, Asian, Black, and White participants were recruited across all three studies. Strikingly, the general processes proposed were consistently found across the three groups in three studies with different experimental designs.
Taken together, the present research provided a novel perspective and theoretical framework in understanding how individuals' beliefs interplay with the social environment in shaping their intergroup perceptions.
Issue Date:2009
Description:62 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2009.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI3362745
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-17
Date Deposited:2009

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