Economic scarcity alters the perception of race

Amy R. Krosch, David M. Amodio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When the economy declines, racial minorities are hit the hardest. Although existing explanations for this effect focus on institutional causes, recent psychological findings suggest that scarcity may also alter perceptions of race in ways that exacerbate discrimination. We tested the hypothesis that economic resource scarcity causes decision makers to perceive African Americans as "Blacker" and that this visual distortion elicits disparities in the allocation of resources. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrated that scarcity altered perceptions of race, lowering subjects' psychophysical threshold for seeing a mixed-race face as "Black" as opposed to "White." In studies 3 and 4, scarcity led subjects to visualize African American faces as darker and more "stereotypically Black," compared with a control condition. When presented to naïve subjects, face representations produced under scarcity elicited smaller allocations than control-condition representations. Together, these findings introduce a novel perceptual account for the proliferation of racial disparities under economic scarcity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9079-9084
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number25
StatePublished - Jun 24 2014


  • Face processing
  • Inequality
  • Prejudice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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