Evidence for hypodescent and racial hierarchy in the categorization and perception of biracial individuals

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Mar;100(3):492-506. doi: 10.1037/a0021562.


Individuals who qualify equally for membership in two racial groups provide a rare window into social categorization and perception. In 5 experiments, we tested the extent to which a rule of hypodescent, whereby biracial individuals are assigned the status of their socially subordinate parent group, would govern perceptions of Asian-White and Black-White targets. In Experiment 1, in spite of posing explicit questions concerning Asian-White and Black-White targets, hypodescent was observed in both cases and more strongly in Black-White social categorization. Experiments 2A and 2B used a speeded response task and again revealed evidence of hypodescent in both cases, as well as a stronger effect in the Black-White target condition. In Experiments 3A and 3B, social perception was studied with a face-morphing task. Participants required a face to be lower in proportion minority to be perceived as minority than in proportion White to be perceived as White. Again, the threshold for being perceived as White was higher for Black-White than for Asian-White targets. An independent categorization task in Experiment 3B further confirmed the rule of hypodescent and variation in it that reflected the current racial hierarchy in the United States. These results documenting biases in the social categorization and perception of biracials have implications for resistance to change in the American racial hierarchy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude
  • Black People / psychology
  • Face
  • Female
  • Hierarchy, Social*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Racial Groups / psychology*
  • Social Perception*
  • Stereotyping*
  • United States
  • White People / psychology
  • Young Adult