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Researchers find that in race stereotypes, issues are not so black and white

December 28, 2015

Recent race-related events — in Ferguson, Missouri; St. Louis; Baltimore; Chicago; Charleston, South Carolina; and New York City — all point to the continuing need to study and understand race relations in modern America. These events show how race and stereotypes are intertwined and can lead to explosive situations and protests.

Now, three Arizona State University researchers have approached this problem by asking, why do white Americans’ stereotypes of black Americans take the particular forms they do? The answer, surprisingly, may have little to do with race, per se. Instead, many predominant race stereotypes reflect beliefs about how people from different environments, or “ecologies,” are likely to think and behave.

In “Ecology-driven stereotypes override race stereotypes,” published in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, ASU doctoral students Keelah Williams and Oliver Sng, together with Steven Neuberg, an ASU Foundation Professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, conducted a series of five studies examining the stereotypes people hold about individuals who live in resource-poor and unpredictable (“desperate”) environments as compared with those who live in resource-sufficient and predictable (“hopeful”) environments.

Research shows that desperate and hopeful environments tend to shape the behavior of those living within them by altering the costs and benefits of different behavioral strategies. Desperate ecologies tend to reward “faster,” present-focused behaviors whereas hopeful ecologies tend to reward “slower,” future-oriented behaviors.

Because ecology shapes behavior, the authors argue, social perceivers are likely to use cues to another’s ecology, or environment they come from, to make predictions about how that person is likely to think and behave. Indeed, research participants stereotyped those from desperate environments as relatively faster — as more impulsive, sexually promiscuous, likely to engage in opportunistic behavior and as less invested in their education and children, than individuals from hopeful ecologies.

But why are these ecology-driven stereotypes relevant for understanding the content of race stereotypes?

“In America, race and ecology are somewhat confounded — whites are more likely to live in relatively hopeful ecologies, and blacks are more likely to live in relatively desperate ecologies,” said Williams. “We wanted to examine whether Americans were actually using race as a cue to ecology, and if so, whether providing ecology information independently from race information would lead people to decrease their use of race stereotypes.”

To assess the relationship between ecology and race stereotypes, the researchers first examined participants’ stereotypes of individuals from desperate and hopeful ecologies (with no race information provided) and compared these responses to participants’ stereotypes of blacks and whites (with no ecology information provided). The patterns were identical — stereotypes of blacks mirrored stereotypes of individuals from desperate environments, and stereotypes of whites mirrored stereotypes of individuals from hopeful environments.

“However, when provided with information about both the race and ecology of others, individuals’ inferences about others reflect their ecology rather than their race,” Williams said. Black and white targets from desperate ecologies were stereotyped similarly, and black and white targets from hopeful ecologies were stereotyped similarly.

“In thinking about black and white individuals from hopeful and desperate ecologies, information about the individuals’ home ecology trumped information about their race,” Williams said.

The researchers stress that these findings shouldn’t be taken to imply that race is unimportant, or that stereotypes about people from desperate ecologies are the only source of racial prejudices. Moreover, the researchers note several important caveats for interpreting their findings.

First, said Neuberg, “although in present-day America blacks are more likely than whites to be from desperate ecologies, and whites are more likely than blacks to be from hopeful ecologies, this association between race and ecology is far from perfect, meaning that race is an imperfect cue to ecology. Second, even stereotypes that do possess meaningful kernels of truth are rarely perfect representations of any particular individual. Third, because people are biased to exaggerate perceived threats, stereotypes of those from desperate ecologies are likely to be more extreme than is warranted by the actual behaviors of people living within those ecologies.”

Findings of this study have potentially important implications for understanding the content of race stereotypes in America.

“Race stereotypes have far-reaching consequences,” said Williams. “Stereotypes about groups can lead to negative prejudices and discrimination directed towards members of those groups. If we can understand why American race stereotypes take the particular forms they do, we may be able to find new ways of reducing racial prejudices and discrimination.”

The research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Arizona State University Foundation for a New American University.

Associate Director , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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ASU Now, the best in video 2015

December 29, 2015

Editor's note: ASU Now videographer Ken Fagan looked back through his files from 2015 to share his favorite videos and offer background on the assignments that made these features so memorable.

The superfan series

Working on this two-part profile of Dan Turbyfill, ASU’s special events manager for the alumni association, was special to me because of the story’s subject, himself. The man is a mentor to many of our graduate and undergraduate students, but I also consider him a friend who shares a positive force with all who meet him.

To capture his spirit, and his rabid Sun Devil devotion, I decided to stage Dan’s interview in his office, which is a cathedral to all things Sparky, ASU and former ASU football coach Frank Kush. With maroon and gold everywhere, how can you not feel the need to “Pity the Kitty” after entering that hallowed space?

But to capture the full scope of what Dan does for this university, much of the footage had to come from following him around as he does enough to cripple some people — from Medallion scholar luncheons, to painting the “A” gold, to Student Alumni Association meetings, to semester welcoming events.

It took a lot of time and effort to gather all the footage for this piece, but I enjoyed every minute of the rush to get what was needed to tell this story.



Parent-teacher English/Spanish language class at ASU Prep

Journalists are always looking for inspiring stories. This one dropped into my lap through collaboration with Media Relations colleague Firoz Jameel. Firoz and I both speak Spanish and had a ball working with the parents and teachers at the ASU Preparatory Academy.

Lighting a classroom has always been a task; from back in the old days shooting classrooms with video guru Guy Mullins to now, it has always been tough. Dull florescent lighting is a pain to light, but with adjustable LED light panels it is amazing how you can make it feel comfortable. We set up our interview space with the class in the background; movement always improves a background. The interviews took the most time, mainly because Firoz and I had great conversations with the parents and teachers. They are amazing people who truly want to learn and help improve their community and school.

I ended up with 15 minutes of time to shoot the cover footage needed for this video. Earlier before the class session, I had shot some cover of the school entrance and campus, but I needed the class interaction and had to move quickly to get what I needed in a very short time span. I am happy that the interactions between parents and teachers are obvious to the viewer and for the opportunity to meet interesting people doing innovative things.


UCLA game-day trip with Student Alumni Association students

This production required me to keep my eyes and ears open at all times to capture the best images possible on a 24-hour road trip. It wasn’t easy, but it was a lot of fun.

The trip to Los Angeles was boring till we hit Pasadena, traffic and an abrupt stop on the freeway when our bus driver had to "go." Seeing the Rose Bowl and its surroundings are impressive, and having your team play in the "bowl" is exciting. There wasn’t much time for interviews so I decided to have some of the ASU travelers narrate the day’s events at a later date. It was all a rush from the moment we parked the four buses full of student fans, to the tailgate, to getting credentials, to the on-field action.

From beginning to end, the game and audience participation was incredible. The ASU fans were loud and helped turn the tide against an overwhelmingly large home advantage for the Bruins. The biggest issue I had to face was battery depletion, so I was continually returning to the media pit under the bleachers to recharge. This became an issue at the end of the game. As the ASU team ran over to greet the fan section, there was lots of commotion, lots of pushing but excellent shots of fans, players and family members enjoying the moment. It was all good till my battery died right when Coach Todd Graham was about to hand the game ball to the Sun Devil marching band. I switched immediately to my iPhone and captured the ball hand-over just in the nick of time.

ASU fans are supportive fans. Capturing them as they cheered on their team from entrance onto the field to when they boarded their buses impressed me. It was a long ride home, but the experience of being in the Rose Bowl for a Sun Devil win was worth it.


Steve Turkovich: A letterman who helped build this house

Making a new friend is special any time of the year, especially if that new friend is Steve Turkovich. Mr. Turkovich has been a Sun Devil season ticket holder since 1965 and is an alumnus of ASU and a four-year veteran of the Sun Devil football team under famed Coach Frank Kush.

Upon meeting "Turk," you know that you are meeting a kind, loyal family man. He loves his family and his Sun Devils.

This video involved shooting at various locations in the Valley, from the Sun Devil practice fields to Steve’s home, from the family tailgate to the Tillman tunnel and an ASU football game. Every location was interesting to shoot at because each one was so different in telling Turk's story. He goes to every practice to support the players and offer advice, and I enjoyed every minute of producing this video and the opportunity to meet Steve Turkovich and his family.


Operation Inferno: Army ROTC and Public Service Academy training

Every kid dreams of being G.I. Joe at one time in his or her life, and I had the opportunity to document what ROTC training is like this past October.

This video describes some of the action and interactions that occur during Army ROTC fall training. It was the first time that the ASU Public Service Academy and Army ROTC teamed up to learn from each other during regular military training sessions. It was very interesting to see and hear the interactions between military students and civilian students who were learning and working together for a common goal.

This production required fast action, quick thinking and teamwork to complete. I really enjoyed the guesswork of what would happen next. All of the students and their advisers really impressed me with the desire to work together to improve communication between the military arm of education, the civilian arm and the importance of understanding each other to support our communities.

Ken Fagan

Videographer , ASU Now