Blind People Assign Characteristics Of Race Based On Extensive Encounters

First Posted: Aug 25, 2015 02:15 PM EDT

Do blind people categorize race? 

New findings presented at the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) reveal that blind people categorize fewer people by race than those who can see clearly and assign race to virtually anyone who passes by. For blind individuals, assigning race is a much slower process and generally takes place only when they have extensive interactions with the person-not a casual encounter.

"The visual process of assigning race is instantaneous, and it's an example of automatic thinking -- it happens below the level of awareness," researchers noted, in a news release. "With blind people, the process is much slower as they piece together information about a person over time. Their thinking is deliberative rather than automatic, and even after they've categorized someone by race, they're often not certain that they're correct."

In this recent study, researchers set out to answer the question by interviewing 25 individuals who are blind. Findings revealed that the process, overall, for those who are blind, was much slower than those who see normally. The groundbreaking study addresses new information that examines how these individuals rely on senses other than sight that help them determine certain information about people. These subjects did not typically think of race visually. Yet, unlike some earlier studies that included only participants who were born blind, this study considered individuals who were born without sight as well as those who become blind later in life.

"Many of my subjects said they thought that being blind made them less likely to develop stereotypes," researchers added. However, some did still hold cultural stereotypes or make racial assumptions even though their definition of race was not based on appearance.  

Researchers concluded how the study notes that we should consider non-visual ways of thinking about race, as it is an unambiguous characteristic, even though it doesn't exist biologically.

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