Something As Simple As Smiling Can Help Curb Racial Bias, Study Suggests

How are racist attitudes propagated and what can we do to reduce them? That question is in the air in the wake of the church massacre in Charleston, S.C. and a string of recent police shootings.

But a new study suggests that by setting a small example for others, something as simple as smiling at or sharing a positive moment with someone of another race, can have a big impact.

Positive behavior toward different social groups can be contagious,” study co-author Dr. Dana R. Carney, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley‘s Haas School of Business, said in a written statement. It’s that simple.

For the study, the researchers conducted four experiments involving more than 300 mostly white college students. The students were randomly assigned to watch one of two types of videos. One type showed white students having positive interactions with black students, such as smiling or leaning in when interacting with them. The other type showed white students not smiling or looking away as they interacted with black students.

Then the students who had watched the videos were asked a series of questions about the black students in the videos, as well as questions intended to gauge racial bias.

What did the researchers find? Students who watched the video showing negative bias toward black students also formed a more negative impression of black students, adopted more negative racial stereotypes, and demonstrated a greater negative racial bias themselves. But students who watched the video showing positive behavior were found to have less racial bias and adopted fewer racial stereotypes.

In fact, participants indicated that they liked and wanted to be friends with the black students who were on the receiving end of positive behaviors significantly more than they liked and wanted to be friends with the —> Read More