Malia Mason

Racial Neutrality and Racial Paralysis

Coauthor(s): Michael I. Norton, Joe Vandello, Andrew Biga, Rebecca Dyer.


Four studies examine the existence, underlying mechanism, and effectiveness of a new norm endorsed by both Black and White Americans for managing interracial interactions: “racial paralysis,” the tendency to opt out of decisions involving members of different races. While Whites were quite willing to choose which of two White individuals was more likely to be class valedictorian or to have committed a violent crime, they were less likely to make the same choice between a White and Black person (Study 1). Study 2 examined the strength of this tendency to opt out; Whites were willing to forgo a monetary incentive to avoid choosing. Study 3 used fMRI to examine the mechanisms underlying racial paralysis, revealing greater recruitment of brain regions implicated in conflict in social decision-making, and inhibition of instinctively preferred but contextually inappropriate responses when making cross-race choices.  Finally, Study 4 explored the effectiveness of this strategy, demonstrating that both White and Black Americans view opting out as an effective means of appearing unbiased. We discuss the impact of racial paralysis on the quality of interracial relations.

Source: Working Paper
Exact Citation:
Norton, Michael I., Malia Mason, Joe Vandello, Andrew Biga, and Rebecca Dyer. "Racial Neutrality and Racial Paralysis." Working Paper, Columbia Business School, November 29, 2010.
Date: 29 11 2010