“The visual process of assigning race is instantaneous, and it’s an example of automatic thinking — it happens below the level of awareness,” Asia Friedman, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Delaware, said.
“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 categorised someone by race, they’re often not certain that they’re correct.”
In fact, she said, blind people categorise many fewer people by race than do sighted people, who assign a race to virtually everyone they see. For those who are blind, the slower process of assigning race generally takes place only when they have extensive interactions with a person, not with passersby or during casual encounters.
“Many of my subjects said they thought that being blind made them less likely to develop stereotypes,” Friedman said.
However, the interviews revealed that many of them did hold cultural stereotypes or make racial assumptions, even though their definition of race was not based on appearance.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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