Skin Color Biases: Attractiveness and Halo Effects in the Evaluation of African Americans

  • T. Joel Wade


Since the early days of slavery a bias favoring fair skin has been a significant and discriminatory distinction made by both White and Black Americans. Recent research indicates that African Americans are considered more attractive by others if they have fair skin. Clearly, skin color exerts strong effects on many aspects of African Americans’ lives. Skin color may also affect the beauty and life chances of other non-African American groups since skin color affects perceptions in India, Israel, Korea, Japan, the West Indies, South Africa, Britain, and South America. But, until additional research examining this issue is conducted one cannot be certain that it is true. Hopefully, now that more work is being done examining skin color the public will be made aware of this and additional research examining the impact of skin color in the aforementioned cultures will also be conducted.


Skin Color African American Woman Dark Skin Personality Evaluation Sexual Attractiveness 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Allen, B. P., & Wroble, S. (1975). Attractive people like themselves better than unattractive people-most of the time: Self-descriptions employing the AGT. Paper presented as the Midwestern Psychological Association Convention, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
  2. Azibo, D. (1983). Perceived attractiveness and the Black personality. Western Journal of Black Studies, 7(4), 229–238.Google Scholar
  3. Banks, W. C. (1976). White preference in Blacks: A paradigm in search of a phenomenon. Psychological Bulletin, 83(6), 1179–1186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Banks, W. C., McQuater, G. V., & Ross, J. A. (1979). On the importance of White preference and the comparative difference of Blacks and others: Reply to Williams and Morland. Psychological Bulletin, 86(1), 33–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bar-Tal, D., & Saxe, L. (1976). Perceptions of similarly and dissimilarly attractive couples and individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33, 772–781.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blair, I. V., Judd, C. M., & Chapleau, K. M. (2004). The influence of Afrocentric facial features in criminal sentencing. Psychological Science, 15(10), 674–679.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blair, I. V., Judd, C. M., Sadler, M.S., & Jenkins, C. (2002). The role of Afrocentric features in person perception: Judging by features and categories. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 5–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blau, P. M. (1964). Exchange and power in social life. New York, Wiley.Google Scholar
  9. Bond, C., Di Canada, C., & McKinnon, J. R. (1988). Response to violence in a psychiatric setting. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 14, 448–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12, 1–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12, 1–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cash, T. F., & Kilcullen, R. N. (1985). The eye of the beholder: Susceptibility to sexism and “beautyism” in the evaluation of managerial applicants. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 15, 591–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chambers, J., Clark, T., Dantzler, L., & Baldwin, J. (1994). Perceived attractiveness, facial features and African self-consciousness. Journal of Black Psychology, 20(3), 305–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chideya, F. (1995). Don’t believe the hype: Fighting cultural misinformation about African Americans. New York: Penguin Books, Inc.Google Scholar
  15. Clark, K., & Clark, M. (1939a). The development of consciousness of self and the emergence of racial identification in negro preschool children. Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Clark, K., & Clark, M. (1939b). Segregation as a factor in the racial identification of Negro preschool children: A preliminary report. Journal of Experimental Education, 8, 161.Google Scholar
  17. Clark, K., & Clark, M. (1947). Racial identification and preference in Negro children. In T. Newcombe & E. C. Hartley (Eds.), Readings in social psychology (pp. 159–169). New York: Holt.Google Scholar
  18. Clark., K. B., & Clark, M. P. (1980). What do Blacks think of themselves? Ebony, 11, 176–182.Google Scholar
  19. Cunningham, M. R. (1986). Measuring the physical in physical attractiveness: Quasi-experiments on the sociobiology of female facial beauty. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 925–935.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cunningham, M. R., Barbee, A., & Pike, C. (1990). What do women want? Facialmetric assessments of multiple motives in the perception of male facial physical attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 61–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cunningham, M. R., Roberts, A. R., Barbee, A. P., Druen, P. B., & Wu, C.-H. (1995). “Their ideas of beauty are, on the whole the same as ours”: Consistency and variability in the cross cultural perception of female physical attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 261–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Darwin, C. (1874). The descent of man and selection in relation to sex. New York: Hurst.Google Scholar
  23. Davis, A., Gardner, B. R., & Gardner, M. R. (1941). Deep South. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  24. Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Dipboye, R. L., Arvey, R. D., & Terpstra, D. E. (1977). Sex and physical attractiveness of raters and applicants as determinants of resume evaluation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 62, 288–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dollard, J. (1957). Caste and class in southern town. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  27. Drake, S. C., & Cayton, H. (1945). Black metropolis. New York: Harcourt Brace.Google Scholar
  28. Drake, S. C., & Cayton, H. (1962). The measure of a man. In S. C. Drake and H. Cayton, (Eds.), Black metropolis: A study of Negro life in a northern city (vol. 2, pp. 495–525), New York: Harper.Google Scholar
  29. Eagly, A., Ashmore, R. D., Makhijani, M. G., & Longo, L. C. (1991). What is beautiful is good, but: A meta-analytic review of research on the physical attractiveness stereotype. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 109–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Eberhardt, J. L., Davies, P. G., Purdie-Vaughans, V. J., & Johnson, S. L. (2006). Looking deathworthy: Perceived stereotypicality of Black defendants predicts capital-sentencing outcomes. Psychological Science, 15(5), 383–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Edwards, J. N. (1969). Familial behavior as social exchange. Journal of Marriage and The Family, 31, 518–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ekehammar, B., & Sidanius, J. (1982). Sex differences in socio-political ideology: a replication and extension. British Journal of Social Psychology, 21, 249–257.Google Scholar
  33. Elder, G. (1969). Appearance and education in marriage mobility. American Sociological Review, 34, 519–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Feingold, A. (1990). Gender Differences in effects of physical attractiveness on romantic attraction: A comparison across five research paradigms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 981–993.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Fine, M., & Bowers, C. (1984). Racial self-identification: The effects of social history and gender. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 14(2), 136–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Franklin, J. H. (1968). Introduction: Color and race in the modern world. In J. H. Franklin (Ed.), Color and race. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  37. Franklin, J. H. (1980). From slavery to freedom, 5th edition. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  38. Franklin, J. H. (1957b). The Negro in the United States. New York: McMillan.Google Scholar
  39. Gergen , K. J. (1968). The significance of skin color in human relations. In J. H. Franklin (Ed.), Color and race. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  40. Gilmore, D. C., Beehr, T. A., & Love, K. G. (1986). Effects of applicant sex, applicant physical attractiveness, type of rater and type of job on interview decisions. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 59, 103–109.Google Scholar
  41. Goodman, M. E. (1952). Race awareness in young children. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  42. Gray, S. (1944). The wishes of Negro school children. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 64, 225–237.Google Scholar
  43. Hall, R. E. (1992). Bias among African Americans regarding skin color: Implications for social work practice. Research on Social Work Practice, 2(4), 479–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Henik, A., Munitz, S., & Priel, B. (1985). Color, skin color preferences and self color identification among Ethiopian- and Israeli-born children. Israeli Social Science Research, 3, 74–84.Google Scholar
  45. Herskovits, M. J. (1934). A critical discussion of the “mulatto hypothesis.” Journal of Negro Education, 3(3), 389–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Homans, G. C. (1961). Social behavior: Its elementary forms. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.Google Scholar
  47. Hughes, M., & Hertel, B. R. (1990). The significance of color remains: A study of life chances, mate selection, and ethnic consciousness among Black Americans. Social Forces, 68(4), 1105–1120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Johnson, C. S. (1941). Growing up in the Black belt: Negro youth in the rural south. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.Google Scholar
  49. Keith, V. M., & Herring, C. (1991). Skin tone and stratification in the Black community. American Journal of Sociology, 97(3), 760–778.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Kenrick, D. T., & Keefe, R. C. (1992). Age preferences in mates reflect sex differences in human reproductive strategies. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 15, 75–133.Google Scholar
  51. Kenrick, D. T., Neuberg, S. L., Zierk, K. L., & Krones, J. M. (1994). Evolution and social cognition: Contrast effects as a function of sex, dominance, and physical attractiveness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20(2), 210–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Kovel, J. (1971). White racism: A psychohistory. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  53. Landry, B. (1987). The new Black middle class. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  54. Lincoln, C. E. (1968). Color and group identity in the United States. In J. H. Franklin (Ed.), Color and race. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  55. Maddox, K. B. (2004). Perspectives on racial phenotypicality bias. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8(4), 383–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Maddox, K. B., & Gray, S. A. (2002). Cognitive representations of Black Americans: Reexploring the role of skin tone. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(2), 250–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Mathes, E., & Kahn, A. (1975). Physical attractiveness, happiness, neuroticism, and self-esteem. The Journal of Psychology, 90, 27–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Mazella, R., & Feingold, A. (1994). The effects of physical attractiveness, race, socioeconomic status, and gender of defendants and victims on judgments of mock jurors: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24(15), 1315–1338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Merton, R. K. (1941). Intermarriage and the social structure: fact and theory. Psychiatry: Journal for the Study of Interpersonal Processes, 4, 361–374.Google Scholar
  60. Morland, J. K. (1962). Racial acceptance and preference of nursery school children in a southern city. Merrill Palmer Quarterly of Behavior and Development, 8, 271–280.Google Scholar
  61. Murstein, B. I. (1976). Who will marry whom?: Theories and research in marital choice. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  62. Murstein, B. I., Merighi, J. R., & Malloy, T. E. (1989). Physical attractiveness and exchange theory in interracial dating. Journal of Social Psychology, 129(3), 325–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Myrdal, G. (1944). An American dilemma. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  64. Neal, A. M., & Wilson, M. L. (1989). The role of skin color and features in the Black community: Implications for Black women and therapy. Clinical Psychology Review, 9, 323–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Nosek, B. A., Banaji, M. R., & Greenwald, A. G. (2002). Harvesting implicit group attitudes and beliefs from a demonstration website. Group Dynamics, 6(1), 101–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Parrish, C. (1944). The significance of color in the Negro community. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation: University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  67. Powell-Hopson, D., & Hopson, D. (1988). Implications of doll color preferences among Black preschool children and White preschool children. Journal of Black Psychology, 14(2), 57–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Rand, C. S., & Hall, J. A. (1983). Sex differences in the accuracy of self-perceived attractiveness. Social Psychology Quarterly, 46, 359–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Reuter, E. B. (1918). The mulatto in the United States. (1969 reprint). New York: Negro Universities Press.Google Scholar
  70. Riggs, M. (Producer/Director) (1986). Ethnic notions [Film]. San Francisco, CA: California Newsreel.Google Scholar
  71. Riggs, M. (Producer/Director) (1989). Old myths die hard: The case of Black self-esteem. Revue Internationale de Psychologie Sociale, 2(3), 355–365.Google Scholar
  72. Ross, L. (1997). Mate selection preference among African American college students. Journal of Black Studies, 27, 554–580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Russell, K., Wilson, M., & Hall, R. (1993). The color complex: The politics of skin color among African Americans. New York: Harcourt Brace Janovich.Google Scholar
  74. Sadalla, E. K., Kenrick, D. T., & Vershure, B. (1987). Dominance and heterosexual attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(4), 730–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Sandler, K. (Producer/Director) (1992). A question of color [Film] San Francisco, CA: California Newsreel.Google Scholar
  76. Schulman, G. I. (1974). Race, sex and violence? A laboratory test of the sexual threat of the Black male hypothesis. American Journal of Sociology, 79, 1260–1277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Schuman, H., Steeh, C., Bobo, L., & Krysan, M. (1997). Racial attitudes in America: Trends and interpretations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  78. Sidanius, J., Levin, S., Liu, J.H., & Pratto, F. (2000). Social dominance orientation and the political psychology of gender: An extension and cross cultural replication. European Journal of Social Psychology, 30, 41–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Sigall, H., & Landy, D. (1973). Radiating beauty: Effects of having a physically attractive partner on person perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(2), 293–307.Google Scholar
  80. Singh, D. (1993). Adaptive significance of female physical attractiveness: Role of waist- to- hip ratio. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(2), 293–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Singh, D. (1995). Female judgment of male attractiveness and desirability for relationships: Role of waist-to-hip ratio and financial status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(6), 1089–1101.Google Scholar
  82. Smith, L., Burlew, A., & Lundgren, D. (1991). Black consciousness, self-esteem, and satisfaction with physical appearance among African American female college students. Journal of Black Studies, 20(1), 62–74.Google Scholar
  83. Thibaut, J. W., & Kelley, H. H. (1959). The social psychology of groups. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  84. Trivers, R. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell, (Ed.), Sexual selection and the descent of man: 18711971 (pp. 136–179). Chicago, IL: Aldine.Google Scholar
  85. Udry, J. R., & Billy, J. O. G. (1987). Initiation of coitus in early adolescence. American Sociological Review, 52, 841–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Udry, J. R., Bauman, K. E., & Chase, C. (1971). Skin color, status, and mate selection. American Journal of Sociology, 76, 722–733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. van den Berghe, P. L., & Frost, P. (1986). Skin color preference, sexual dimorphism and sexual selection: A case of gene culture co-evolution? Ethnic and Racial Studies, 9(1), 87–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Wade, T. J. (1991). Marketplace economy: The evaluation of interracial couples. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 12(4), 405–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Wade, T. J. (1996). The relationships between skin color and self-perceived global, physical, and sexual attractiveness, and self-esteem for African Americans. Journal of Black Psychology, 22(3) 358–373.Google Scholar
  90. Wade, T. J. (2000). Evolutionary theory and self-perception: Sex differences in body esteem predictors of physical and sexual attractiveness and self-esteem. International Journal of Psychology, 35(1), 36–46.Google Scholar
  91. Wade, T. J. (2003). Evolutionary theory and African American self-perception: Sex differences in body esteem predictors of physical and sexual attractiveness, and self-esteem. Journal of Black Psychology, 29(2), 123–141.Google Scholar
  92. Wade, T. J., & Bielitz, S. (2005). The differential effect of skin color on attractiveness, personality evaluations, and perceived life success of African Americans. Journal of Black Psychology, 31(3), 215–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Wade, T. J., Thompson, V., Tashakkori, A., & Valente, E. (1989). A longitudinal analysis of sex by race differences in predictors of adolescent self-esteem. Personality and Individual Differences, 10(7), 717–729.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Wade, T. J., Milanak, M. A., Minaya, E. F., Schnure, K., & Shanley, A. (2003). Attractiveness and individual differences in men’s perceived mental health. Presented at the American Psychological Association Convention, Toronto, Canada, August 2003.Google Scholar
  95. Wade, T. J., Romano, M. J., & Blue, L. (2004). The influence of African American skin color on hiring decisions. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 34(12), 2550–2558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Zebrowitz, L. A., Montepare, J. M., & Lee, H. K. (1993). They don’t all look alike: Individuated impressions of other racial groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(1), 85–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBucknell UniversityWalnut PortUSA

Personalised recommendations