June 22 2016

What Lies Beneath? Minority Group Members’ Suspicion of Whites’ Egalitarian Motivation Predicts Responses to Whites’ Smiles

Jonathan W. Kunstman
Taylor Tuscherer
E. Paige Lloyd

Antiprejudice norms and attempts to conceal racial bias have made Whites’ positive treatment of racial minorities attributionally ambiguous. Although some minorities believe Whites’ positivity is genuine, others are suspicious of Whites’ motives and believe their kindness is primarily motivated by desires to avoid appearing prejudiced. For those suspicious of Whites’ motives, Whites’ smiles may paradoxically function as threat cues. To the extent that Whites’ smiles cue threat among suspicious minorities, we hypothesized that suspicious minorities would explicitly perceive Whites’ smiles as threatening (Study 1), automatically orient to smiling White—as opposed to smiling Black—targets (Study 2), and accurately discriminate between Whites’ real and fake smiles (Study 3). These results provide convergent evidence that cues typically associated with acceptance and affiliation ironically function as threat cues among suspicious racial minorities.