Previous studies have established that people encode the race of each
individual they encounter, and do so via computational processes that
appear to be both automatic and mandatory. If true, this would be
important, because categorizing others by their race is a
precondition for treating them differently according to race. We will
report experiments, using unobtrusive measures, showing that
categorizing persons by race is not inevitable, and supporting an
alternative hypothesis: that encoding by race is instead a reversible
byproduct of cognitive machinery that evolved to detect coalitional
alliances. The results show that subjects encode coalitional
affiliations as a normal part of person representation. More
importantly, when cues of coalitional affiliation no longer track or
correspond to race, subjects markedly reduce the extent to which they
categorize others by race, and indeed may cease doing so entirely.
Despite a lifetime's experience of race as a predictor of social
alliance, less than 4 minutes of exposure to an alternate social
world was enough to deflate the tendency to categorize by race. This
suggests that racism may be a volatile and eradicable construct that
persists only so long as it is actively maintained through being
linked to parallel systems of social alliance.
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