Who are you?

Certainly, gender and race are among the first qualities we perceive when first meeting someone new. Although our bodies are central to our identity, many individuals would never consider either quality, race, or gender their most important attribute. Reviewing recent studies that focus on perceptions of race and daringly pose the question "Who are we?", one thing is clear: American perceptions of race are continuing to evolve and doing so in a positive direction.

Let's experiment

At a recent conference of the American Psychological Association, Jessica D. Remedios, Ph.D., of Tufts University, presented her work on the accuracy of perceptions of race. Because monoracial people are typically identified correctly whereas multiracial people are typically misidentified, she hypothesized that multiracial people would value another's accurate assessment of their race during social interactions moreso than monoracial people. Race, then, is a characteristic that people of multiracial backgrounds understand as a less visible aspect of their identity, yet one they nevertheless hope others will verify.

"Our research found that multiracial people expect positive interactions with people who accurately perceive their racial backgrounds because that affirms their self-perceptions," Remedios said. Her study, conducted with co-researcher Alison Chasteen, involved 169 undergraduates divided into two groups. For the first experiment, the group consisted of students with parents of different races and single-race students, but no whites. The second experiment combined multiracial and single-race students including whites.

In the first experiment, researchers took photos of participants and told them they would trade the photo with another participant located in another room. Although this second participant was actually fictional, the researchers presented a photo of a white man and asked the actual participant to identify his race and add comments. Next, the participants received and read fictional comments from the pretend white man, though actually written by the researchers. Finally, the participants answered questions that assessed their interest in meeting this pretend person. Whites were not included because, according to Remedios, past research suggests they are not usually concerned with their race.

In the second experiment, researchers showed actual participants a photo of either a (fictional) white man or woman who either accurately or inaccurately identified the actual participant's race. They were then asked if they felt surprised by the identification. They were also asked how they felt about themselves after reading the other participant's comments on their race.

"Multiracial (but not monoracial) participants reported heightened interest in interacting with an accurate partner," wrote Remedios and her co-author. "The results suggest that multiracial (but not monoracial) people view race as an aspect of the self (like personality traits or values) requiring verification from others during interactions."

Other researchers suggest that race for their multiracial participants is a category that provides a collective identity where one 'fits.'


The Rejection-Identification model, a theory of behavior developed in 1999, posits that perceived rejection by one group may lead someone who identifies as a minority to increasingly identify with their 'in-group' in order to buffer themselves from negativity and to enhance their psychological well-being.

In a study testing the Rejection-Identification Model in a sample of multiracial people, Canadian researchers hypothesized that perceived discrimination would encourage multiracial people to identify more strongly with their perceived in-group and that, in turn, this multiracial identification would foster psychological well-being. "Multiracial identification is conceptualized as a coping response," wrote the authors.

Conducting a variety of experiments, the researchers found that, consistent with their hypothesis, members of the multiracial group stereotyping themselves as similar to other multiracial people, perceiving people within the multiracial category as more homogenous and expressing solidarity with the multiracial category. Their work suggests, according to the authors, "that multiracial identification's protective properties rest in the fact that it provides an collective identity where one 'fits.'"

And clearly it works. Previous research has found that people who identify as multiracial have as many or more positive experiences than those who identify as a single race, regardless of that group's status in society, according to Jacqueline M. Chen, Ph.D., of the University of California.


At the recent APA conference, Chen discussed her own study, conducted with David Hamilton, that involved 435 ethnically diverse undergraduate students.

In six different experiments, participants were asked to identify the race of black, white, Asian or multiracial individuals in photos while researchers recorded their accuracy and response times. In two experiments, the researchers used a memorization task as well as a time limit; would either affect a participant's accuracy of race identification?

In another experiment, participants were told the study was about reading comprehension and attention; after perusing articles about scientists claiming to find a genetic basis for race, they were asked to view several photographs and identify the person's race.

Chen found that participants were consistently less likely to identify people as multiracial than single-race. Perceivers were often uncertain, hesitant, and slow in categorizing multiracial individuals. "In the real world, this additional time, hesitation, and thought during face-to-face interaction could be interpreted by a multiracial interaction partner as signs of intergroup anxiety or prejudice," said Chen. And, when misidentifying a person's race, perceivers were more likely to categorize someone multiracial person as white than black.

"Today the race label 'white' includes Italians and Eastern Europeans, who were once actively discriminated against in U.S. immigration legislation," wrote Chen and her co-author. Any categorization of race is really just a social construct that changes over time. Meanwhile, multiracial people are becoming increasingly prevalent. "Will the shifting demographics of American society instigate cultural changes in the way we understand and perceive race? Only time will tell," wrote Chen and her co-author.

Sources: Remedios JD, Chasteen AL. Finally, Someone Who "Gets" Me! Multiracial People Value Others' Accuracy About Their Race. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. 2013.

Giamo LS, Schmitt MT, Outten HR. Perceived discrimination, group identification, and life satisfaction among multiracial people: a test of the rejection-identification model. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. 2012.

Chen JM, Hamilton DL. Natural ambiguities: Racial categorization of multiracial individuals. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 2011.