Behavioural Science Blog

The Science of Human Behaviour

Virtual Race Manipulation

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In the article “When Prejudice does not pay: Effects of Interracial Contact on Executive Functioning”, Richeson and Shelton found that people who score high on an implicit racial bias test, show the highest impairment on executive functioning, after interaction with a black experimenter. They state that this effect occurs when a member of the majority-group has to interact with a member of a minority-group. The now (at least in Nijmegen) famous bushalte-experiment by Daniel Wigboldus did show different approach tendencies for Caucasian versus Moroccan virtual confederate, whereas the Caucasian virtual person is considered belonging to the majority group and the Moroccan person is considered belonging to the minority group.

I am wondering in how far self-consciousness is involved in these approach tendencies and if the effect disappears if the group inclusion of the participant matches those of the (virtual) confederate. There have been researchers (mainly in the US) who have taken on the role of an African American, by changing their appearance, but so far, to my knowledge, no practical experimental manipulation of race has been suggested. I propose to do just that in a virtual lab experiment.

In a study called Video Ergo Sum: Manipulating Bodily Self-Consciousness (Lenggenhager, 2007) participants where placed in a virtual reality that projected their own body in front of them. In what seems an elaboration of the rubber hand effect, those participants began experiencing this body as their own. I believe that it would be technically easy to adjust the skin tone of this avatar, and thus manipulate race temporarily. To investigate whether ingroup/outgroup really is an important factor in racial bias I propose the following procedure, to be used with Caucasian participants:

Initially all participants complete a racial IAT. They are then randomly assigned to either the same-race or the different-race condition and they enter the virtual reality. There an avatar (of themselves), which is in sync with their body movements, will be projected in front of them. In the same-race condition they will appear as a Moroccan person, in the different-race condition they will appear as Caucasian. They then will have to approach a Moroccan avatar (as has been done in the previous bushalte-experiments). I hypothesise that if the (virtual) participant’s race is temporarily changed to match the race of the (virtual) confederate (Moroccan) the effect of the approach tendency will decrease. This would suggest that self-consciousness of race does play a role in interracial interaction.

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