Monthly Archives: October 2011

When “The Black Sheep” Is White

By: Megan E. Birney

2011 marks 10 years since the mixed-race category was added to the U.K.’s annual censes.  To commemorate this event, BBC Two has been running a series of programmes documenting the mixed-race experience both in Britain and around the world.

One of familys profiled in the series are the Kellys.  While the Kellys are mixed race (the father, Errol, is black and the mother, Alyson, is white), what makes them truly extraordinary is that in 1993, Alyson gave birth to twin boys — one black and one white.

How is this possible?  According to population geneticist Dr. Jim Wilson, Errol’s Jamaican heritage holds the answer. In the days of slavery, white men raping black women were common practice and, as a result, most blacks from outside of Africa have a mix of African and European DNA.  In the case of the Kellys, Errol passed his African DNA to his son James (resulting in James’ black skin) but passed his European DNA to his son Daniel (resulting in Daniel’s white skin).

Not surprisingly, being twins with different skin colours was difficult for James and Daniel growing up.  What is surprising, however, is that it was Daniel – the white twin – that endured the bulk of the racist abuse from students at the all-white school the twins attended.  His mum explains that situation like this: “Those kids couldn’t stand the fact that, as they saw it, this white kid was actually black.  It was as though they wanted to punish him for daring to call himself white.”

According to research by Yzerbyt, Leyens, and Bellour (1995), we are quick to reject ingroup members that are not in line with what is required for group membership.  Because the identity of the group is put at stake by misidentifying an ingroup member, we tend to be especially careful when allowing new members in.  If misidentification does occur, there is a “Black Sheep Effect” in which the “bad” ingroup member is chastised more than a similarly “bad’” outgroup member.  In other words, if an ingroup member and an outgroup member both exhibit an undesirable behaviour, we are likely to be much harder on the ingroup member.

Akin to this theory, the white students at the twins’ school punished Daniel because they had identified him as white (and hence an ingroup member) when he was, in actuality, half black.  Such behaviour from these white students illustrates just how important race is in how we identify both others and ourselves.  While the U.K and the rest of the world have come quite far in how we perceive mixed race people, it is clear that we still have a long way to go.

Yzerbyt, V., Leyens, J., Bellour, F. (1995). The ingroup overexclusion effect: Identity concerns in decisions about ingroup membership. European Journal of Social Psychology, 25 (1), 1-16.

Black and White Twins: The Guardian, Saturday September 24, 2011

Are you afraid to go to Mexico? Mental shortcuts may promote misperceptions about risk

By Kevin R. Betts

Whenever I mention growing up in Metro Detroit to people in my current city of Fargo, I find myself begrudgingly answering questions about street crime and gang violence — regional attractions and achievements, in contrast, are rarely mentioned. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising given Detroit’s current label as “America’s most dangerous city” and generally gritty reputation. But I can understand why Mexico’s tourism division speaks of fighting battles against misunderstood risks and geographical imprecision propagated by politicians and the media. Speaking to Newsweek about Mexico’s recent achievements, a Mexican official says “Everything you do is like the fourth paragraph. It should be the headline.

The generalized American fear of traveling to Mexico is not without reason. The country’s drug war alone has lasted four and a half years and left 35,000 dead. Yet, politicians and the media speak of this violence as if it were the only story to be told about the country. In reality, risks faced by Americans in Mexico are quite low. Newsweek’s Bryan Curtis crunches the numbers: “…if you look at the number of Americans killed in Mexico since the drug war began in 2006, and then isolate the number of innocents “caught in the crossfire,” it amounts to only 10 or 20 killings per year….This is in a country with hundreds of thousands of American expats and more than 17 million American tourists.” David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute, confirms: “It would be naïve to say there is zero risk…But it would be alarmist to say the risk is much higher than ‘very low.’

So why do so many Americans fear crossing their southern border? It probably has a lot to do with the way in which we process information about unknowns. The availability heuristic, for example, is a rule of thumb we use to predict the likelihood of events based on the ease with which examples can be brought to mind. When we think of Mexico, we may visualize beheadings, kidnappings, and mass graves — images that have been provided for us by politicians and the media in recent years. Just as our attention is drawn toward these acts of violence, our attention is drawn away from Mexico’s natural beauty, delicious food, and friendly people. Another rule of thumb known as the representativeness heuristic contributes to this misperception by leading us to judge the probability of one event by finding a comparable event and assuming the probabilities will be similar. So when we hear about violence in Ciudad Juárez, we wrongly assume that violence is commonplace in places like Acapulco as well. Or more precisely, when we hear about violence in Ciudad Juárez, we wrongly assume that all parts of the city are equally dangerous.

Residents of Detroit understand that their community is more than “America’s most dangerous” and violence in one part of the city says little about violence in another part of the city. Likewise, Americans should realize there is more to Mexico than drug wars and that violence in one region says little about violence in other regions.

Read more:

Bishop, M.A. (2006). Fast and frugal heuristics. Philosophy Compass, 1/2, 201-223.

Come on in, the water’s fine (Newsweek)

America’s most dangerous cities (Forbes)

Social and Personality Psychology Compass

© Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Volume 5, Issue 10 Pages 694 – 823, October 2011

The latest issue of Social and Personality Psychology Compass is available on Wiley Online Library

 

Emotion Motivation

Affiliation Goals and Health Behaviors (pages 694–705)
Jerry Cullum, Megan A. O’Grady and Howard Tennen
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00376.x

Intrapersonal Processes

The Effects of Social Power on Goal Content and Goal Striving: A Situated Perspective (pages 706–719)
Guillermo B. Willis and Ana Guinote
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00382.x

 

The Virtue Blind Spot: Do Affective Forecasting Errors Undermine Virtuous Behavior? (pages 720–733)
Gillian M. Sandstrom and Elizabeth W. Dunn
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00384.x

 

Treatment Choice and Placebo Expectation Effects (pages 734–750)
Andrew Geers and Jason Rose
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00385.x

 

Selective Exposure, Decision Uncertainty, and Cognitive Economy: A New Theoretical Perspective on Confirmatory Information Search (pages 751–762)
Peter Fischer
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00386.x

 

The Revision and Expansion of Self-Theory through Preparedness (pages 763–774)
Patrick J. Carroll, Michael J. McCaslin and Greg J. Norman
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00388.x

Social Cognition

Data-driven Methods for Modeling Social Perception (pages 775–791)
Alexander Todorov, Ron Dotsch, Daniel H. J. Wigboldus and Chris P. Said
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00389.x

 

How Stereotypes Stifle Performance Potential (pages 792–806)
Toni Schmader and Alyssa Croft
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00390.x

Social Influence

Self-Awareness Part 1: Definition, Measures, Effects, Functions, and Antecedents (pages 807–823)
Alain Morin
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00387.x