Study investigates whether blind people characterize others by race
EurekAlert! The Global Source for Science News
American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Sociological Association
CHICAGO — Most people who meet a new acquaintance, or merely pass someone on the street, need only a glance to categorize that person as a particular race. But, sociologist Asia Friedman wondered, what can we learn about that automatic visual processing from people who are unable to see?
Friedman, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Delaware, set out to explore that question by interviewing 25 individuals who are blind. She will present her findings in a study at the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA).
“The visual process of assigning race is instantaneous, and it’s an example of automatic thinking — it happens below the level of awareness,” Friedman said. “With blind people, the process is much slower as they piece together information about a person over time. Their thinking is deliberative rather than automatic, and even after they’ve categorized someone by race, they’re often not certain that they’re correct.”
In fact, she said, blind people categorize many fewer people by race than do sighted people, who assign a race to virtually everyone they see. For those who are blind, the slower process of assigning race generally takes place only when they have extensive interactions with a person, not with passersby or during casual encounters…
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