Racial Bias Colors Visual Perception
It is often assumed that processes such as visual perception work in the same ways in all people, but research now suggests that how we see things may be influenced by our expectations and opinions.
Cognitive neuroscientist Yair Pinto and his colleagues asked 45 white Dutch people to perform a binocular rivalry task — a standard tool in visual perception studies. The researchers presented low-contrast images of white, Moroccan and black faces to one eye and high-contrast changing patterns to the other. At first, the study participants were aware of seeing only the patterns. But when the contrast of the patterns was reduced and that of the faces was increased, the patterns became invisible and the faces broke through into the participants’ awareness. The results suggest that high-level mental processes such as racial stereotyping can exert a direct ‘top-down’ effect on lower-level processes such as visual perception.