Our view: Study’s findings arise from unfair stereotypes

DKS Editors

Last week, a psychological study was published by SAGE Publications that claimed to support the concept of skin-tone memory bias. This is a phenomenon that occurs when a black individual “appears lighter in the mind’s eye following a counter-stereotypic prime.” In other words, the study strove to prove that such individuals “who defy social stereotypes might not challenge social norms sufficiently but rather may be remembered as lighter, perpetuating status quo beliefs.”  

The study was conducted in a manner that showed participants words such as “ignorant” and “educated” for 33 milliseconds before being shown a picture of a black man.  Participants were later shown different pictures of the same man’s face after darkening or lightening his complexion, and subsequently asked to identify the original man they saw. Many of those who had read the word “ignorant” chose the darker complexioned man, and those who had read “educated” chose the lighter complexioned man.  

This is an interesting concept that certainly supports the Western symbolism that considers darkness or blackness to be associated with negative or evil things—many publications face criticism using Photoshop to lighten the skin of people of color in advertising.  

However, this stereotype is constantly reinforced through our media and culture, which may explain the study’s findings. Take, for instance, the covers of Time magazine and Newsweek in 1994 in the midst of O.J Simpson’s trial.  Published on the same day, both magazines showed Simpson’s mug shot on their covers, but Time deliberately darkened his image using Photoshop, thus making it look more sinister and evil.  

With the massive effect of societal culture on a population, it’s no surprise that skin tone memory bias affects people even on a subconscious level, and this should raise concern.  It is no secret that these stereotypes support embedded racism in our culture, and they can only be adequately challenged by also challenging the world we live in — from the way we treat one another to holding media accountable when it falls into the realm of racism.  

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.