Racist body language comes through loud and clear on television, even when the sound is off, a new study shows.
Through a set of ingeniously concocted experiments, reported Friday in the journal Science, researchers show that white characters in television series display far more negative body language toward their black peers than to members of their own race.
The bias conveyed by these body clues is not only recognized subconsciously by people who watch the shows, but significantly influences their feelings about the black characters.
“Sadly, we observed that nonverbal race bias is a typical pattern on scripted television shows,” lead study author Max Weisbuch said in a release on the paper.
“White characters are treated better across the board and this has an impact on viewers,” said Weisbuch, a postdoctoral psychologist at Massachusetts’s Tufts University.
In the first experiment, researchers used clips from 11 different television programs — including Bones, Grey’s Anatomy, CSI and Scrubs — and digitally removed one of the characters participating in the scenes.
They then muted any on-screen conversations and recruited college students who had never seen the episodes to watch.
“We took out the target character, who was either black or white, and the (remaining) character was always white,” senior study author Nalini Ambady said in an interview with the Toronto Star.
“Then we just showed people and said ‘how much does this person like the person they’re interacting with?’” said Ambady, a Tufts social psychologist.
The student viewers, it was found, consistently judged the body language expressed by the visible white characters as more negative whenever the unseen character in the scene was black.
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