How People Perceive Multiracial Faces Isn’t Always So Black and White

professional headshot of Sarah Gaither
By Dan Vahaba

The new research, published September 18 in the journal Developmental Science, is part of a growing effort to consider how a person’s own identity affects how they label Multiracial people, which is a rapidly growing demographic. In 2010, 9 million people identified as multiracial, but in the last decade the number has increased more than three-fold, to 33.8 million people.

“We thought this is how it always worked, because we’ve only been seeing it from one perspective,” said Analia Albuja, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Northeastern University, and the lead author of the new study. “Our study shows how things are a little bit different when you actually consider different racial backgrounds.”

During her time as a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Sarah Gaither, Ph.D., the Nicholas J. and Theresa M. Leonardy associate professor of psychology & neuroscience at Duke, Albuja helped analyze a large dataset to get at how one’s own race might impact their categorization of someone else’s.

Gaither, back when she was a postdoctoral researcher herself in Chicago, recruited 215 children and their parents from the area and asked them whether a Multiracial face appearing on a computer screen looked more like a White or Black face that appeared below it.