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How the Brain Processes Mixed-Race Faces

A look at the stereotypes that inform our expectations

Kristal Brent Zook
ZORA
Published in
7 min readSep 23, 2019

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“U“Usually very physically attractive,” said one survey respondent. “They’re always beautiful people,” said another. “Most often a gorgeous mix.” The comments continued. “Biracial babies are pretty.” Mixed-race people are “glamorous and exotic.”

These were just some of the comments from a July 2019 study in which 1,100 mostly White respondents were asked what stereotypes they thought society had about multiracial people. Researchers found that one nearly universal stereotype was common to all biracial groups: attractiveness.

The study is important, says Sylvia Perry, co-lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern University, because “stereotypes inform our expectations. They help us decide whether or not we choose to form friendships or relationships” with those we meet.

Survey respondents also agreed that multiracial people “don’t belong,” are “generally confused,” and “lack a cultural identity.”

Perry’s study, which was completed together with co-authors Allison Skinner and Sarah Gaither, is just one in a growing field of expanding research on multiracial identity. More and more psychologists, social scientists, and other health professionals are seeking a better understanding of how society perceives multiracial people and how they perceive themselves.

“Prior to 1980, the multiracial population received limited attention from educators, researchers, social scientists, and mental health professionals,” writes Reginald Daniel, editor of the Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies. What little research existed was “outdated, contradictory, or based on small-scale studies of children who were experiencing ‘problems’.”

That thinking is changing.

Kristin Pauker, a psychologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, has shown that biracial babies as young as three months are able to recognize faces more quickly than monoracial babies. In an interview for the New York Times, Pauker likened this ability to bilingualism, arguing that the facial perception skills of biracial babies are more developed because they’ve had more variation in the process of learning to…

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Kristal Brent Zook
ZORA
Writer for

Award-winning journalist/professor; race, women, justice. My latest book is #1 in New Releases for Mixed Race/Multiracial! Order @ thegirlintheyellowponcho.com