The “Bad Is Black” Effect: Why People Believe Evildoers Have Darker Skin Than Do-Gooders

Adam L. Alter, Chadly Stern, Yael Granot, Emily Balcetis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Across six studies, people used a “bad is black” heuristic in social judgment and assumed that immoral acts were committed by people with darker skin tones, regardless of the racial background of those immoral actors. In archival studies of news articles written about Black and White celebrities in popular culture magazines (Study 1a) and American politicians (Study 1b), the more critical rather than complimentary the stories, the darker the skin tone of the photographs printed with the article. In the remaining four studies, participants associated immoral acts with darker skinned people when examining surveillance footage (Studies 2 and 4), and when matching headshots to good and bad actions (Studies 3 and 5). We additionally found that both race-based (Studies 2, 3, and 5) and shade-based (Studies 4 and 5) associations between badness and darkness determine whether people demonstrate the “bad is black” effect. We discuss implications for social perception and eyewitness identification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1653-1665
Number of pages13
JournalPersonality and social psychology bulletin
Volume42
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

Keywords

  • bias
  • implicit prejudice
  • morality
  • race
  • skin tone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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