William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Science Can Tell If You’re A Racist Just By Looking At You

Racism is bad

Racism is bad

George Carlin used to advise those who wanted to avoid jury duty to tell the judge, “Don’t worry about me, your honor. I can tell guilty people—<snap!>—just like that!”

We had a giggle, but the laugh, as they say, was on us. For the new science of phrenology insists that all people implicated in the despicable crime of racism have distinctive physiognomies. All racists have white, European, male faces.

Just kidding! That’s how journalists identify racists at a glance. Phrenologists do so with the male facial width-to-height ratio.

Or so says the peer-reviewed paper “Facial Structure Is Indicative of Explicit Support for Prejudicial Beliefs” in the well-respected journal Psychological Science by Eric Hehman and others.

Grab a tape measure before reading further, because you’re sure to want to play along. First lay your tape along your bizygomatic width (“the distance between the left and right zygions, or cheekbones”), then divide that into your upper facial height (“the distance between the upper lip and the midbrow”). Use the picture above as a guideline.

Near as I can figure—it’s difficult to lay a tap width-wise which excludes the prominence which has erupted, and continues to grow, in the middle of my face—my fWHR (giving it an acronym is what makes it science) is 1.5, perhaps a hair larger.

What’s yours?

Any white male with a fWHR greater than 1.8 must immediately turn themselves into their company’s human “resource” department for sensitivity (re-)training, for these men are clearly racists who harbor prejudicial attitudes towards blacks.

Not only that, as a service to diversity, that noble goal, I suggest HR departments implement fWHR screening to weed out the biased before hiring. Not doing so indicates a willingness to embrace racism, for how could you not use such a cheap, simple, scientifically valid tool? Lawyers: watch for the non-compliant.

Hehman did not peg an exact fWHRs above which crossed the racism line, but he did say that higher fWHRs were “associated with increased explicit racial prejudice.” Unfortunately, fWHRs were not “associated” with “implicit” racism, which differs from “explicit” racism. Didn’t know there was more than one kind of racism? Brother, there are dozens shades of racism, with academia discovering new ones constantly. But never mind that here.

Hehman gathered 70 white males (college students) and attacked them with two questionnaires, the “Attitudes Toward Blacks Scale” (ATB) and the “External Motivation to Respond Without Prejudice Scale” (EMS). (Yours Truly went to the original papers on these scales, as Hehman did not include them.)

Examples of the ATB: “I think that black people look more similar to each other than white people do”, “Some blacks are so touchy about race that it is difficult to get along with them”, “I worry that in a few years I may be denied my application for a job or a promotion because of preferential treatment given to minority group members.”

The EMS was a “computer program”, and therefore authoritative. It showed pictures of blacks, “e.g., Martin Luther King Jr., Tiger Woods”, and whites, “e.g., Al Capone, Timothy McVeigh”, with brief captions “Tiger Woods is a famous golf champion” (these were the only examples given). The amount of time whites gazed at the images was noted.

Those who scored higher on these tests were said to be racists, because as diversity theory suggests, black people do not look more similar to each other than white people do. And obviously, unprejudiced people would look at golfer and Tiger Woods and mass-murder Timothy McVeigh the same length of time. “Explicit” versus “Implicit” (vs. all the other kinds of) racism were teased out using statistical methods too complicated for us to explore. However, they used hierarchical linear modeling, bootstrapping, and of course p-values, so you know these results are solid.

Testosterone, that most politically incorrect of chemicals, probably has something to do with fWHR.

From an evolutionary perspective, it may have been advantageous to identify dominant, high-testosterone males (both in-group and out-group members) because more-dominant males would be more likely to hold leadership positions in one’s own group and to behave aggressively. In previous work, researchers have speculated that men with more masculine facial features may have greater access to important resources because they are perceived as physically dominant…

That’s all the explanation we need, because to suggest anything else smacks of anti-evolutionism. Only deniers would deny this.

————————————————————————–

Thanks yet again to Al Perrella for alerting us to this topic.

22 Comments

  1. Sander van der Wal

    28 February 2013 at 9:26 am

    Why are they only showing famous Americans? If you cannot tell King from Woods from Capone from McVeigh?

  2. There may be some shreds of validity underlying the concept behind the study — people tend to look longer at faces having features similar to theirs.

    They also will examine images longer when they find those images interesting–and for many people, just for example: those of us that find golf, and thus golfers, entirely uninteresting but do find crime & detective stories, and by extension infamous criminals, interesting. Those of us with such general interests & non-interest combinations would naturally examine the criminals, who happened to be white AND in their way particularly notorious celebrity figures, more than the others, who happened to be dissimilar even if lesser [or viewed as much lesser] celebrity figures.

    How did that study sift out & adjust for topical areas of interest & disinterest associated with the broader topics associated with the faces, or their colors, in the photos?

    Surely they didn’t presume that color & facial patterns dominated and that associated factors–factors linked directly to the symbology & associated meanings of the symbols–didn’t???

  3. Briggs

    28 February 2013 at 10:50 am

    Test test, oh ho ho, another test.

  4. Embellishments aside, its not facial proportions that are determinitive, its Obama — per the NYT:

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/27/how-much-does-race-still-matter/

  5. BRIGGS–shame on you for sensationalizing & fundamentally misrepresenting the study!!!

    The study does NOT state that certain facial proportions are associated with greater racial bias, the study applies a visual metric associated with higher testosterone levels, which in turn are associated with less inhibition, greater dominance, greater agression, etc. In other words, the fWHR measure is a proxy for well-known biological behavioral chemistry.

    Here’s what an unbiased report made clear:

    “…these results did not show that the men were necessarily more prejudiced — men with greater fWHR did not score higher on measures that assessed implicit, or more automatic, racial prejudice. Rather, these men were simply more likely to express any prejudicial beliefs they may have had.

    “Not all people with greater fWHRs are prejudiced, and not all those with smaller fWHRs are non-prejudiced,” says Hehman. “You could think about it as a ‘side effect’ of social dominance — men with greater fWHR may not care as much about what others think of them.”

    and, “Results from a second study suggest that observers actually perceive and use fWHR when evaluating another person’s degree of prejudice.”

    Going on, Hehman states: “This research provides the first evidence for a facial metric ….These studies may open up new avenues of research;…” IN OTHER WORDS — the above findings are hardly definitive/conclusive but serve as a first starting point for more study.

    That much more truthful summary of the study is from: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130213152412.htm

    What the study/ies actually said versus the version you report seem rather incompatible. Why is that?

  6. Briggs

    28 February 2013 at 2:52 pm

    (Study 1) “Participants with greater fWHRs did report significantly more explicit racially prejudiced beliefs..” (my emphasis)

    “Our secondary hypothesis was that males with a greater fWHR would be less inhibited by societal pressure to conform and thus would report less external motivation to respond without prejudice. Support for this hypothesis was demonstrated by a negative correlation between fWHR and EMS score,..”

    “Taken together, these results indicate that, perhaps because of decreased susceptibility to societal pressures to appear nonprejudiced, males with a greater fWHR were more likely to admit that they harbored prejudicial beliefs..”

    (Study 2) “As we predicted, participants evaluated targets with wider, shorter faces (those with greater fWHRs) as more prejudiced…”

    (Study 3) “Targets with greater fWHRs were again evaluated as more prejudiced…”

    “These results indicate that fWHR contributed accurate information regarding targets’ personality characteristics above and beyond the information obtained from these other meaningful impression-formation variables…”

    Etc.

  7. I heard similar bit of phrenology yesterday regarding ring-finger lenghts of Itallian women. Italian women with long ring fingers are more accurate at assesing risks, more agressive it taking risks and are more sucessful in business. (I suppose this is palmistry and not prenology.)

    On racism, My girlfriend gave me this test.

    https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/featuredtask.html

    It said that I like black people most and wite people least. I guess I am a traitor to my race.

  8. Briggs, what all that english seems to be saying is that these traits are correlated with being more “honest” and straightforward with your not politically correct views, irregardless of your inherent racism.

    It says nothing about the inherent racism per se.

    A person without these traits is simply more inclined to conceal their own racism, if they have it.

    I’m with Ken here.

    The fact that the people with these traits are “recognized” for being more racist is another indication that the probability these people will express their own racism is larger than the control group.

  9. Moon beams and pixie dust, phrenology is back?
    Its not new and it was rubbish when it first was social wisdom.
    So now the progressives will proudly proclaim their eugenics roots?
    Guess we better consult the psychics as well.
    Racist by what standards?
    By who’s definition?
    I have maintained for decades, that I have no racial prejudice , I hate you all equally.
    So what race am I?

  10. Doug M: interesting test. Now if I only had a long enough attention span to pay attention to all those matches, I suppose I would get different results.

    John R: I hear you on that!

    Psychology is less and less science all the time…..sad.

  11. RE: Briggs’ remarks at 2:52pm:

    (Study 2) “As we predicted, participants evaluated targets with wider, shorter faces (those with greater fWHRs) as more prejudiced…”

    (Study 3) “Targets with greater fWHRs were again evaluated as more prejudiced…”

    NOTE: THOSE remarks are from individuals seeing the faces with the given fWHR proportions and those individuals perceiving those people with those proportions as being more racist. I.E., those facial proportions did not indicate any measurable difference in racism–but people viewing them may be inclined to perceive them as such.

    The remark:

    “Any white male with a fWHR greater than 1.8 must immediately turn themselves into their company’s human “resource” department for sensitivity (re-)training, for these men are clearly racists who harbor prejudicial attitudes towards blacks.”

    …both misses and distorts the findings. A more accurate way of portraying the finding in such terms would be:

    ‘Any white male with a fWHR greater than 1.8 should recognize that a significant proportion of observors will perceive them as more racist that those with a fWHR that is lower, and, this might be due to their inclination to express such views–for those that hold them–more openly than others…though they in fact do not hold such views any more than the general population.”

    This link seems to address the nuances found clearly enough: http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/ironically-a-mans-face-can-tell-you-if-hes-likely-to-act-like-a-racist There, the author notes the researcher noted that such innaccurate perceptions of those having the given facial proportions may induce behavier that becomes self-fulfilling.

    Psychology research is necessarily empirical — one cannot open a person’s brain & dissect out precise cause-effect relationships and studies necessarily don’t quite aligne precisely from one to the other. But there are not alternatives & that’s pretty well recognized. So, its easy to nitpick, and there’s certainly bad/inane/dopey research to be found…but that’s no excuse to be sloppy about critiques and so forth.

    There’s enough good research that makes psychology very useful in marketing & espionage (two well known & often dramatic examples where such knowlede is applied tactically and not necessarily to the target’s benefit, or to the target’s detriment)–such that a limited number of factors, analyzed correctly, consistently predict behaviors & outcomes given known situational factors. In other words, it has been & continues to be used with good effect. The most basic error by amatuers is in trying to extrapolate findings in ways familiar, usually familiar relative to quantitative disciplines–but human nature just doesn’t work that way.

    If someone doesn’t get it, or just wants to denigrate it–chooses to make “sweeping generalizatin” fallacy with reckless abandon…that’s their problem.

  12. Ken, both you and Luis seem to be overlooking the fact that the study is saying you can use a physical characteristic a (sort of) signal of underlying psychology (tendency). Born bad, so to speak. Why is using fWHR for this purpose OK but face color not? The latter is considered “racist” while the former somehow is not. Why is that?

    Psychology as a science has close to the same track record as astrology. Disguising that with fancy statistics won’t change that simple fact.

  13. One does have to admire a paper that manages to smoothly combine fallacious arguments from phrenology, eugenics and sociobiology, and then elegantly integrate that with every possible methodological mistake one could make. In its category it’s something of a masterpiece.

  14. So men with long faces are more likely than dumpy guys to express opinions of which others may disapprove. Why choose racist opinions then? Presumably they’ll also be more likely to say that women should stay in the kitchen and that Irishmen are stupid if and when they hold those opinions. What does it tell us about the authors that they chose racism for their tests?

  15. So if you have a long face you are less racist……all the happy people must there fore be racist. Make everyone sad, then we shall all be un-prejudiced.

    Sounds like socialism.

  16. Ken–You make a valid point. The study was supposed to be designed to measure other’s perceptions, not the participants. However, using race to define this was a very bad choice on the part of the researcher. Honestly, given the pictures Briggs put in his article, the researchers could have looked at “geek” versus “thug” and gotten basically the same result.
    The “Attitudes toward Blacks” appears to be mostly a test of politically correct thinking. If the survey were so labelled, I would not have a problem with it. Politically correct answers weigh heavily in these studies–and surveys often have questions that thinking people will consider very, very narrow and bigoted in themselves. The questions steer people to desired outcomes.
    You are correct that we cannot look into people’s brains and know what they are thinking. That is why in psychology experimental design is crucial. Marketing and espionage are areas where testing can yield some useful information, but again, testing parameters are crucial (remember “new coke”?).

    I wondered if the participants in the study were from all races, since the width of some races face is much wider than others. If the study is right, then said race/races would be perceived as racist most often. Did the studies presume that blacks cannot be racist? That would seem to be case looking at the ATB questionnaire. What is the basis for that belief? All of these questions are very important to an accurate outcome, while most of the time, such questions are ignored. Which is why psychology looks foolish many, many times.

    The entire concept of race is mostly political–anthropologists only counted three or four races, politics added the rest. Which is why I find the idea that Hispanic represents a separate race so annoying. This whole thing was about dividing political spoils, not about how people look. These studies measure more how one sees politics than race.

  17. “Some blacks are so touchy about race that it is difficult to get along with them”

    If you think that there are ZERO black people like this, you are a moron. But you’re also not racist, so give yourself a pat on the back. Moron.

  18. you have the face of someone who would believe in phrenology

  19. Adam H, the fraction of the population that actually understands what you are saying is apparently small enough not to significantly affect the validity of the survey results, so psychologists don’t need to bother about making sense when they compose the trigger statements.

  20. Eric Anderson

    4 March 2013 at 1:06 am

    Wow, the research was heading right off the cliff and then they had to go ahead throw in that evolutionary psychology “explanation” just for good measure.

    Gotta love these made up stories.

  21. The idea seems to be that shorter, wider faces are indicative of higher testosterone and thus the people with said wide faces (who, I assume, must all be male) are more likely to express racism.:
    *Please demonstrate that a wider face is indicative of testosterone and not genetics and ancestry. Problem, according to this idea, whole areas of the world may be ‘racist’.
    *Please include all races in both the narrow and wide face tests, do wide faced black, ‘Hispanic’, Oriental etc faces show a tendency toward expressing racism? If not, this study is falsified. If the author only uses wide faced Caucasian people to test this, the author is demonstrating nothing but their own prejudice (as well as falsifying their own study).
    *What, there are no racist females?
    *What about wide faced females?
    *How many of my tax dollars went into this study? How many more are expected to?

  22. All of the testers’ findings ultimately depend on assumptions the testers made before they began. Were their assumptions identified? Were they validated?

    Some people assume that only whites can be prejudiced (read ‘racists’); blacks, a priori, are assumed to be completely exempt from this character flaw. (I wish I were making this stuff up, but your readers probably know that I’m not.) Did this kind of view influence the test?

    Just askin’.

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