Selectively friending: Racial stereotypicality and social rejection
Michelle R. Hebl
, Melissa J. Williams
, Jane M. Sundermann
, Harrison J. Kell
, Paul G. Davies
Department of Psychology, Rice University, USA
Goizueta Business School, Emory University, USA
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Canada
Received 8 November 2011
Revised 29 May 2012
Available online xxxx
Three studies show that people whose physical features are seen as more (versus less) racially stereotypical
are more vulnerable to social rejection and exclusion from those outside their group. In Study 1, which used
an online social networking site, Blacks perceived as more physically stereotypical were found to have fewer
non-Black friends, compared to less-stereotypical Blacks. In Study 2, which used an experimental paradigm,
requests for friendship made to non-Blacks by more-stereotypical Blacks were more likely to be rejected than
those made by less-stereotypical Blacks. Finally, in a college dormitory, people judged to have more (vs. less)
racially stereotypical physical features were found to interact less often with outgroup members. This work
substantiates a growing body of research demonstrating that people who are perceived as more physically
stereotypical of their racial group are particularly vulnerable to discriminatory treatment by outgroup mem-
bers across a variety of life domains.
© 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
A visible stigma, such as membership in a racial minority group, can
have signiﬁcant negative consequences for a person's life outcomes,
well-being, and daily interactions with others, as shown by an abun-
dance of research over many decades (e.g., Allport, 1954; Dovidio &
Gaertner, 1986). Recent scholarship, however, has added to the com-
plexity of this approach by demonstrating that negative outcomes are
experienced to unequal degrees by members of the same minority
group. Speciﬁcally, racial minorities who are perceived as more physi-
cally stereotypical or prototypical of their group are more vulnerable
to negative outcomes, compared to less-stereotypical minorities. In
other words, visible minorities face feature-based as well as category-
based discrimination (Maddox, 2004). In the case of Blacks, stereotypi-
cal features include a darker skin tone and broader nose and lips (Blair,
Judd, Sadler, & Jenkins, 2002; Brooks & Gwinn, 2010); for Hispanics,
they include a darker skin tone and more indigenous-appearing fea-
tures (Uhlmann, Dasgupta, Elgueta, Greenwald, & Swanson, 2002).
White stereotypicality appears to involve lighter skin, lighter hair and
eyes, and a thinner nose (Ma & Correll, 2011; Ronquillo et al., 2007);
for Asians, darker hair, smaller eyes, and larger cheeks (Mok, 1998;
Wilkins, Chan, & Kaiser, 2011).
Individuals perceived as more (versus less) stereotypical of their
ethnic or racial group are the recipients of more negative affect or
bias (Ito, Willadsen-Jensen, Kaye, & Park, 2011; Livingston & Brewer,
2002; Ronquillo et al., 2007; Uhlmann et al., 2002) and are viewed in
more stereotypical trait terms (Blair, 2006; Blair, Chapleau, & Judd,
2005; Blair, Judd, & Fallman, 2004; Blair, et al., 2002; Maddox &
Gray, 2002). Stereotypes linking Blacks and crime are particularly
problematic; Blacks perceived as more stereotypical are more likely
to be judged violent or criminal (Dixon & Maddox, 2005; Kahn &
Davies, 2010), even by police ofﬁcers (Eberhardt, Goff, Purdie, &
Davies, 2004). They also are more likely to receive long prison sen-
tences —and even the death penalty (Blair, Judd, & Chapleau, 2004;
Eberhardt, Davies, Purdie-Vaughns, & Johnson, 2006). Indeed, sociol-
ogists have suggested that the difference in life outcomes (such as
economic or educational attainment) between Blacks perceived as
more versus less stereotypical is at least as large as that between
Blacks and Whites (Hill, 2000; Hughes & Hertel, 1990; Keith &
However, despite this recent growth of research exploring the con-
sequences for minorities of within-group phenotypic variability, little
is known about the role that this phenomenon plays in everyday social
interactions. That is, what are the experiences of individuals perceived
as more versus less physically stereotypical in interacting with those
outside their group? In the present studies, we investigate the role of ra-
cial stereotypicality in social acceptance and rejection, looking at social
decision making in real-life communities.
Research on friendship and social interaction across racial group
lines demonstrates that both majority-group and minority-group
members anticipate interracial interactions with signiﬁcant anxiety
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology xxx (2012) xxx–xxx
⁎Corresponding author at: Department of Psychology, Rice University, 6100 Main
Street, Houston, TX 77005, USA.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (M.R. Hebl).
The ﬁrsttwo authors contributedequally to this work;names are listed alphabetically.
Now at the Department of Psychology, University of Denver, USA.
Now at the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, Vanderbilt University, USA.
YJESP-02900; No. of pages: 7; 4C:
0022-1031/$ –see front matter © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect
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Please cite this article as: Hebl, M.R., et al., Selectively friending: Racial stereotypicality and social rejection, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
and distress (Richeson & Shelton, 2007). Majority-group members
typically fear that they will be viewed as prejudiced, and also (incor-
rectly) assume a lack of interest in friendship on the part of their
minority-group interaction partners, who meanwhile fear they will
be the targets of racial prejudice (Goff, Steele, & Davies, 2008; Plant,
2004; Shelton & Richeson, 2005). As a result of these anxious expec-
tations, relatively cold non-verbal behaviors are mutually expressed,
with the consequence being poorer relational outcomes relative to
comparable same-race interactions (Towles-Schwen & Fazio, 2006).
Expecting intergroup interactions to go poorly, both majority- and
minority-group members tend to avoid them; it is therefore not surpris-
ing that racial homophily persists in a variety of social contexts
(McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001). Here, we hypothesize that
these trends will be exacerbated as a function of physical stereotypicality.
That is, we expect that people perceived to have a more-stereotypical ap-
pearance will experience more social rejection from outgroup members
than will those judged to be less stereotypical.
This hypothesis is tested in three studies exploring real social
communities. In Study 1, we investigated the network size of Blacks
who use an online social networking site, hypothesizing that Blacks
perceived as more stereotypical would have fewer non-Black friends
than would less-stereotypical Blacks. This idea was further explored
in Study 2 using an experimental paradigm; we hypothesized that
Blacks' overtures of friendship to non-Blacks within a city-based on-
line community would be met with more rejection when the Black
initiator was more versus less stereotypical. Finally, in Study 3 we ex-
amined the strength of social ties among residents of a college dormi-
tory, hypothesizing that individuals perceived as more stereotypical
would have fewer interactions with outgroup members.
In Study 1, we explored the relationship between perceived phys-
ical stereotypicality and friendship network size. Black Americans'
photographs on Facebook, the social networking website, were
coded for physical stereotypicality, and their number of friends was
recorded. We predicted that more-stereotypical Blacks would have
fewer non-Black Facebook friends, compared to those lower in
stereotypicality. (We did not make a prediction about the relation-
ship between physical stereotypicality and numbers of Black
The participant sample comprised Black men and women who
maintained personal proﬁle pages on Facebook. To help ensure that
participants would be likely to identify as Black, participant selection
was limited to men and women with ﬁrst names shown to occur sig-
niﬁcantly more frequently among Black than non-Black Americans
(Fryer & Levitt, 2004): Darnell, DeAndre, Deshawn, Jamal, Malik,
Marquis, Trevon, Tyrone, and Willie (men); and Aaliyah, Ashanti,
Deja, Diamond, Ebony, Jada, Jazmin, Precious, Raven, Shanice, and
Tiara (women). All participants who had one of these names,
whose proﬁle picture included a recognizable face image, and who
appeared Black were added to the sample until we had an initial
sample of 200. Ten participants were then excluded because their
proﬁle indicated that they lived outside the United States. This
yielded a ﬁnal sample of 190 (85 men and 105 women).
Coding of independent and dependent variables
Three judges rated each participant's main proﬁle photo on Black
physical stereotypicality, using a scale that ranged from 1 (deﬁnitely
not stereotypical) to 4 (deﬁnitely stereotypical). Judges had access only
to photos during coding, and were blind to hypotheses. Inter-judge reli-
ability was sufﬁciently high (Cronbach's alpha= .72), so stereotypicality
ratings were averaged across judges. This stereotypicality index served
as the independent variable.
Next, a fourth judge visited each proﬁle page and recorded how many
Black and non-Black friends the person had (based on the friend's proﬁle
photo). These two indices (number of non-Black friends and number of
Black friends) served as the dependent variables.
Coding of potential mediators
In addition, for exploratory purposes, participants' racial category
memberships also were coded. Speciﬁcally, two judges indicated
whether they thought the person in the photo was Black (or not)
and rated their conﬁdence in this categorization as high, medium,
or low, therefore yielding a continuous scale that ranged from 1
(highly conﬁdent that the person is not Black) to 6 (highly conﬁdent
that the person is Black). Further, two additional judges indicated
whether they thought the person in the photo was Asian, Latino, or
White (i.e., a group other than Black, abbreviated here as ALW) or
not ALW, and rated their conﬁdence in this categorization as high,
medium, or low, therefore yielding a continuous scale that ranged
from 1 (highly conﬁdent that the person is not Asian, Latino, or
White) to 6 (highly conﬁdent that the person is ALW). Inter-judge re-
liability was sufﬁciently high, so ratings were averaged across judges
to create a Black category conﬁdence index (alpha= .90) and an ALW
category conﬁdence index (alpha= .78). These indices were highly
but not perfectly correlated (r=−.62).
Four participants' total friend counts were more than two stan-
dard deviations above the sample mean (>1876 friends). These par-
ticipants were excluded from analysis
as unrepresentative of
typical Facebook users.
We hypothesized that Blacks judged to be more physically stereo-
typical would have fewer non-Black (outgroup) friends than would
less-stereotypical Blacks. We also looked at Black (ingroup) friends
for comparison. Following the methods of Judd, McClelland, and
Smith (1996) for within-subjects moderated regression, we ﬁrst
regressed the stereotypicality index on the difference between the
number of Black and non-Black friends each participant had. This
term was signiﬁcant, β=.29, pb.005, indicating that friend race mod-
erated the effect of stereotypicality on numbers of friends. Follow-up
analyses revealed that, as predicted, Black stereotypicality was nega-
tively associated with numbers of non-Black friends, β=−.32,
pb.005. Moreover, Black stereotypicality was positively and margin-
ally associated with numbers of Black friends, β=.17, p= .051.
We also explored the Black and ALW category conﬁdence ratings
as potential mediators of the relationship between stereotypicality
and number of non-Black friends, to gain further insight into this re-
lationship. Not surprisingly, Black stereotypicality was positively re-
lated to Black category conﬁdence, β= .53, pb.005, and negatively
related to ALW category conﬁdence, β=−.53, pb.005. Analyses
using bootstrapping methods (Preacher, Rucker, & Hayes, 2007)
showed that when Black category conﬁdence was tested as a poten-
tial mediator, the 95% conﬁdence interval (−29.49, 14.32) included
0, indicating no mediation. However, when ALW category conﬁdence
was tested as a potential mediator, the 95% conﬁdence interval
Three participants were rated by both judges as unlikely to be Black. Excluding these
participants did not affectsigniﬁcance levels of the reported analyses. Theywere retained
in order to include the fullrange of the Black categoryconﬁdence index inthe subsequent
mediation a nalyses.
Excluding these participants did not affect signiﬁcance levels.
2M.R. Hebl et al. / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology xxx (2012) xxx–xxx
Please cite this article as: Hebl, M.R., et al., Selectively friending: Racial stereotypicality and social rejection, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
(−72.45, −7.03) did not include 0, indicating mediation. However,
this mediation was only partial, as the relationship between
stereotypicality and number of non-Black friends remained signiﬁ-
cant after controlling for the two category conﬁdence indices, β=
−.17, p=.03. In other words, non-Blacks may be more accepting of
less-stereotypical (relative to more-stereotypical) Black Americans
not because they perceive them as not actually belonging to the
Black category, as indicated by the lack of mediation of the Black cat-
egory conﬁdence index, but rather because they perceive less-
stereotypical Blacks as potentially belonging to another racial catego-
ry (Asian, Latino, or White) along with the Black category.
These results provide preliminary evidence that physical stereo-
typicality is linked to weaker social connections outside one's own ra-
cial group. Further, the mediation analyses suggest that this may occur
in part because less-stereotypical (but not more-stereotypical) indi-
viduals may be seen by others as potentially also belonging to the
Our central hypothesis is that people perceived as more stereotypical
experience greater social rejection from outgroup members, leading to
smaller numbers of friends. However, other explanations for the correla-
tional ﬁnding in Study 1 are possible; for instance, more-stereotypical
Black Americans may choose to maintain fewer outgroup friendships
than those lower in perceived stereotypicality. Hence, the goals of Study
2 were to test (using an experimental design) the hypothesis that
more-stereotypical Blacks are vulnerable to greater social rejection by
In Study 2, Black and non-Black participants were invited to re-
spond to friendship requests from Black men and women whose ap-
pearance varied in stereotypicality.
The participant sample comprised individuals in a large U.S. city
who maintain Facebook pages. To obtain the sample, we visited the
city-speciﬁc Facebook page and recorded URLs for the ﬁrst 1400 indi-
viduals (randomly generated out of the entire set) who had a photo
with a recognizable face image and a range of friends that was +/−1
SD from the city network mean (range: 51–541 friends). This latter cri-
terion ensured participants who were fairly typical in terms of their ten-
dency to accept/reject friend requests. Six proﬁle pages could not be
found when friend requests were sent; hence, the ﬁnal sample size
was 1394. The sample was 56% male and 71% White, 14% Asian, 8% La-
tino, and 7% Black. Gender was determined from self-identiﬁcation on
proﬁles; race was coded from proﬁle photos.
We ﬁrst obtained photos of a Black man and Black woman who
were perceived as moderately stereotypic (Davies, 2012). Next, each
photo was altered using Adobe Photoshop, with modiﬁcations of the
skin color, nose width, and lip fullness, to generate a less-
stereotypical version and a more-stereotypical version of the male
and female targets. (The original, moderately stereotypical photos
were not used as stimuli.) Pretesting conﬁrmed that the two photos
modiﬁed to appear more stereotypic were perceived as signiﬁcantly
more stereotypic than the two photos modiﬁed to appear less stereo-
typic (Davies, 2012).
Fictitious Facebook proﬁle pages were then created using these
four photos. Male targets were named “Michael Davis”; female tar-
gets were named “Jennifer Davis.”These names were chosen because
they are very common among young-adult Americans (Social
Security Administration, 2011) and could easily describe either a
White or Black American. Each proﬁle page included a name, photo,
and city of residence (same as the participants'), and a short blurb:
“I'm new to Facebook. Working on putting up my info!”
Each participant was sent a single friend request
from one of the four target proﬁles, randomly determined. We then
recorded whether the friendship request was accepted. Requests
were recorded as rejected if no response was received within several
Results and discussion
Overall, 15% of participants (213 out of 1394) accepted the re-
quests. This low rate is likely attributable to the fact that the targets
were unknown to participants, requesting friendship and access to
personal information, with only a (large) hometown in common.
Nonetheless, we anticipated that some targets –speciﬁcally those
with a more racially stereotypical appearance –would be rejected
more than others, particularly by outgroup members.
Request acceptance was therefore analyzed by means of a 2 (tar-
get stereotypicality: high vs. low) × 2 (participant race: Black vs.
non-Black) logistic regression. There was a main effect for participant
race, such that the Black targets were more likely to be accepted as
friends by Black than non-Black participants, β=−.75, pb.01. (See
Table 1.) The overall main effect of target stereotypicality was not sig-
niﬁcant, β=−.12, p=.12. However, as predicted, there was a signif-
icant target stereotypicality× participant race interaction, β=−.60,
p=.02. Consistent with hypotheses, non-Black participants were sig-
niﬁcantly less likely to accept a more-stereotypical vs. less-
stereotypical Black target as their friend, β=−.16, p= .04. Among
Black participants, however, the likelihood of friend acceptance was
in fact marginally higher for more-stereotypical versus less-
stereotypical targets, β=.44, p= .08.
Follow-up analyses examined how long participants took before
accepting friend requests. Non-Black participants who accepted friend
requests took signiﬁcantly longer to accept requests from the more-
stereotypical vs. less-stereotypical Black target, F(1, 189)= 9.66,
=.05. There was no difference in the number of days
Black participants took to accept friend requests from less-
stereotypical and more-stereotypical targets, F(1, 25)b1, and the target
stereotypicality X participant race interaction was not signiﬁcant, F(1,
212)b1, both ns.
In summary, an overture of friendship from a Black person to a
non-Black person was less likely to be accepted when the friendship
requester looked more (vs. less) stereotypically Black. Further, even
among those requests that were accepted, more time passed before
acceptance when the requester looked more (vs. less) stereotypically
Black. As previously noted, past research has noted the anxiety Blacks
experience in initial social interactions with non-Blacks (Richeson &
Shelton, 2007; Shelton, Richeson, & Vorauer, 2006), based on fears
of rejection and stigmatization. The present research suggests that
such fears may not be unfounded. Further, Blacks perceived as more
(versus less) racially stereotypical are even more likely to experience
this rejection. Had the more-stereotypical targets created for this
In a “friend”request, a sender requests that he or she be added to the recipient's
Facebook-based social network, which may allow the sender greater access to personal
information (such as photos of the recipient). The recipient may accept, deny, or ignore
3M.R. Hebl et al. / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology xxx (2012) xxx–xxx
Please cite this article as: Hebl, M.R., et al., Selectively friending: Racial stereotypicality and social rejection, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
study been real people, their experience of reaching out to initiate a
new friendship across race lines would likely have been met with
an outright rejection or, at best, a disheartening period of hesitancy
(as suggested by the longer times to accept requests). More-
stereotypical Blacks may regularly experience what amounts to a
double dose of social rejection in daily interactions with outgroup
members —one for their membership in the Black racial group, and
another for a physical appearance seen as “extra Black.”
Combined with the ﬁrst study, Study 2 provides additional evi-
dence that racial stereotypicality leads to greater social rejection
from outgroup members. Further, the experimental design used in
the present study allows for conﬁrmation of a causal path —that
greater racial stereotypicality can directly cause increased rejection
from outgroup members.
Study 3 tested the effects of perceived racial stereotypicality on
friendships within a face-to-face community. Here, residents of a col-
lege dormitory documented their relationships with each other, and
this information was examined as a function of the perceived
stereotypicality of residents' physical appearance. We hypothesized
that dorm residents would report interacting less with fellow resi-
dents who were more (vs. less) stereotypical of a racial outgroup.
Members of all racial groups were included in the study.
The sample comprised all 330 residents of a university dormitory.
At this university, most students live on campus, and ﬁrst-year stu-
dents are randomly assigned to dormitories, helping to limit the
role of self-selection biases in the sample. Further, interaction
among dormitory residents is high (e.g., frequent dorm-based
events), as is identiﬁcation with dorm membership (e.g., frequent
Demographic information, based on self-identiﬁcation, was
obtained independently from school administrators, along with stu-
dents' identiﬁcation photos. Half of the participants (49%) were
male; 55% self-identiﬁed as White, 26% as Asian, 12% as Latino, and
7% as Black.
The study was announced during common mealtimes, and a sur-
vey was placed in each student's mailbox. The response rate was
56% (184 people). Students who participated were entered into a lot-
tery, and four winners each received a $250 gift certiﬁcate.
Materials and procedure
Participants completed the survey privately and returned it to a
centrally located collection box. The survey asked participants to indi-
cate, using a 1 (never)to5(very frequently) scale, how much they in-
teract with each of their 329 fellow dorm residents. The survey
included fellow residents' names, but not their pictures.
Ratings made of each dorm resident (rather than ratings made by
each participant), indicating how much other participants said they
interacted with him/her, were used as the dependent variables. Spe-
ciﬁcally, an ingroup interaction index was created by averaging inter-
action ratings made of each dorm resident by respondents who
shared his/her racial group (White, Black, Asian, or Latino), and an
outgroup interaction index was created by averaging interaction rat-
ings made of each dorm resident by respondents who did not share
his/her racial group.
Racial stereotypicality index
To obtain information about physical stereotypicality, we coded
each participant's college-identiﬁcation photo. The photos had been
taken using a standardized format at the beginning of each parti-
cipant's ﬁrst year. Eight photos were unavailable, leaving a total sam-
ple size of 322.
Three judges rated the racial stereotypicality of each photograph,
using a 7-point scale. Because reliability was high (Cronbach's
alpha= .78), ratings were averaged across judges.
Inter-judge reliability was comparable for ratings of the four racial
groups (range= .77–.85), indicating that judges were able to deter-
mine stereotypicality with a similar level of agreement across the
four groups. Nonetheless, to ensure that subsequent analyses would
be driven by within-group variability in physical stereotypicality
(rather than any between-group variability in scale usage), each par-
ticipant's stereotypicality rating was z-scored around the mean and
standard deviation for his or her racial group before being compiled
into a single index. This racial stereotypicality index constitutes the
primary independent variable.
Results and discussion
Overall, the ingroup interaction index was signiﬁcantly larger
than the outgroup interaction index for both Whites, F(1, 178) =
144.48, pb.005, and non-Whites, F(1, 146) = 69.21, pb.005. This in-
dicates that participants who were dorm residents' ingroup mem-
bers said they interacted with the residents more often than did
participants who were residents' outgroup members, conﬁrming
previously observed patterns of racial homophily (e.g., McPherson
et al., 2001).
To test our prediction that residents' perceived physical stereo-
typicality would predict their exclusion by outgroup members, the
outgroup interaction index was regressed on racial stereotypicality.
This analysis was signiﬁcant, β=−.12, p=.03, consistent with pre-
dictions. In other words, the more stereotypical that residents
appeared based on their photograph, the less often fellow residents
outside their own racial group said that they interacted with them.
A follow-up analysis in which participant racial group (White ver-
sus non-White) and the product of racial group and stereotypicality
were entered as additional terms revealed that stereotypicality did
not interact with participant racial group in predicting outgroup in-
teraction, β=.01, ns. Thus, the strength of the relationship between
being perceived as having more stereotypical physical features and
interacting less with outgroup members was comparable for White
(β=−.11) and non-White (β=−.13) participants. (Sample sizes
Acceptance of friend requests, Study 2.
# (%) who accepted
81 (12%) 107 (16%) 188
n 649 654 1303
Days to accept friend
3.08 2.24 2.60
# (%) who accepted
17 (35%) 8 (19%) 25
Days to accept friend
2.09 2.00 2.06
Total # (%) who accepted
98 (14%) 115 (16%) 213
n 697 697 1394
Days to accept friend
2.91 2.22 2.53
Note: Signiﬁcance levels reﬂect a comparison between the high- and low-stereotypicality
pb.10. * pb.05. ** pb.01.
4M.R. Hebl et al. / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology xxx (2012) xxx–xxx
within individual non-White groups were too small to allow separate
analyses for each group.)
In contrast, there was no relationship between racial stereotypicality
and the ingroup interaction index, β=−.04, ns, indicating that partici-
pants' relationships with those in their group were not tied to the
stereotypicality of their physical appearance.
Thus, even among a community of adults with a great deal in com-
mon (age, educational ambitions, and dorm membership), race-based
physical appearance played a meaningful role in predicting social ac-
ceptance. Here, we found that this phenomenon was of comparable
size among Whites and non-Whites. It may be that the mechanisms
that lead more-stereotypical individuals to experience more outgroup
rejection are similar for Whites and non-Whites, possibly because
physical stereotypicality exacerbates individuals' reservations about
outgroup members. That is, encountering a person who looks more
prototypical of the outgroup may heighten a person's anxieties
about cross-group interactions, whereas encountering a person who
looks less prototypical may lessen these anxieties. This may occur
even for non-Whites encountering more-stereotypical Whites, even
though White physical appearance has not historically been stigma-
tized. We view this as an intriguing initial foray into the role that
physical stereotypicality plays for Whites and worthy of further
Nonetheless, the consequences of outgroup exclusion are likely to
be more drastic for minority- than majority-group members. First, ex-
clusion by outgroup members results in more exclusion (in an abso-
lute sense) for those in a numerical minority group than those in a
majority group, simply because the size of the outgroup is larger for
minority- than majority-group members. Second, historically stigma-
tized minorities (Blacks, Asians, and Latinos) likely enter this selective,
academically intense environment with greater anxieties (relative to
majority-group members) about the degree to which they will be
accepted socially; research shows that a sense of belonging and social
acceptance in academic domains is critical for the success of minority-
group members (more than majority-group members; Walton &
These results may be somewhat surprising in light of the fact that col-
lege dormitories are famously liberal environments (Feldman &
Newcomb, 1969), and this university is one that, like most, publicly em-
braces the values of diversity, multiculturalism, and social engagement
with people of different backgrounds. Yet as past research shows, liberal
attitudes or low prejudice levels are insufﬁcient for reducing –and may
even exacerbate –anxieties in interracial interactions (Shelton,
Richeson, & Bergsieker, 2009; Shelton, Richeson, Salvatore, & Trawalter,
2005; Vorauer, 2005, 2008; Vorauer & Turpie, 2004). In higher-
education environments, this may be especially true for students who
had had minimal contact with outgroup members before coming to col-
lege (Plant & Devine, 2003). Such an environment may create a “perfect
storm”for anxiety and miscommunication between majority- and
minority-group members. The present studies suggest that this may be
particularly true the more that people appear physically prototypical of
These ﬁndings are consistent with a growing body of research con-
ﬁrming that race-based discrimination occurs not only between catego-
ries but also within categories, such that people whose appearance is
more strongly prototypical of their group are subject to additional
stereotyping (e.g., Blair, et al., 2002), discrimination (e.g., Eberhardt, et
al., 2006), and, in the present results, social rejection and exclusion. This
phenomenon is all the more problematic given that stereotypicality-
based bias appears to be less consciously accessible and more difﬁcult
to control than category-based bias (Blair, Judd, & Fallman, 2004;
Sczesny & Kuhnen, 2004).
These studies were the ﬁrst to explore the phenomenon of
stereotypicality bias within the context of social acceptance and rejection.
Analysis of two different social communities, the online social networking
site Facebook (Studies 1–2) and a college dormitory (Study 3), revealed
that being perceived as more physically stereotypical was associated
with having a smaller group of outgroup friends and fewer outgroup so-
cial interactions. Further, the experimental paradigm used in Study 2 re-
vealed that even direct overtures of friendship initiated by minorities
are more likely to be rejected by outgroup members if the initiator
looks more stereotypical of his/her racial group. Thus, an idea central to
social psychological thinking about interpersonal attraction, that we like
those who like us, or who wish to be our friends (e.g., Kenny & La Voie,
1982), may apply less to those who bear the stigma of racially stereotyp-
ical physical features.
Research in other areas has repeatedly demonstrated the negative
consequences of day-to-day experiences of exclusion for minorities.
For example, discrimination experiences predict poorer cardiovascu-
lar health among both Black Americans (Clark, 2000) and Asian
Americans (Gee, Spencer, Chen, & Takeuchi, 2007). In the employ-
ment domain, racial minorities' reduced access to valuable social net-
works hurts their prospects for hiring and promotion (Petersen,
Saporta, & Seidel, 2000; Seidel, Polzer, & Stewart, 2000). Across the
board, social rejection not only feels painful but also can undermine
intellectual performance, impulse control, self-esteem, and physical
health (DeWall & Bushman, 2011). Based on the present ﬁndings,
we would suggest that these consequences of social rejection would
be worsened for those perceived as more stereotypical of their racial
As noted in past research (Kaiser & Wilkins, 2010), it is likely that
multiple mechanisms are at play in the greater social exclusion expe-
rienced by those perceived as more racially stereotypical. The correla-
tional approach used in Studies 1 and 3 does not exclude the role of
personal choice, such that more-stereotypical individuals may choose
to associate with outgroup members less often (relative to less-
stereotypical individuals). However, the experimental paradigm
used in Study 2 suggests that more-stereotypical individuals are
also more likely to be directly rejected by those outside their group,
even when they explicitly initiate a relationship. Conﬁrmation of
this causal path renders it unlikely that personal choice fully accounts
for the results of the other two studies. Further, recent work demon-
strates that although more-stereotypical minorities do identify with
their ingroup more strongly than do less-stereotypical minorities,
this tendency is minimally related or unrelated to the desire for inter-
action with outgroup members (Wilkins, Kaiser, & Rieck,2010). In other
words, majority group members appear to assume –incorrectly –that
more-stereotypical minorities are less interested in friendship with
them. Based on these ﬁndings, we suggest that the role played by
personal choice in the reduced social interactions between more-
stereotypical group members and those outside their group is mini-
mal, and, if present at all, may reﬂect a coping mechanism against
further exclusion (Kaiser & Wilkins, 2010; Maddox & Chase, 2004)
rather than the ultimate cause of stereotypicality-based differences
in social communities.
Instead, we speculate that the many factors that continue to stand in
the way of close friendships across racial lines are exacerbated when
one's interaction partner is more (vs. less) physically stereotypical of
his or her group. To the perceiver, a more-stereotypical outgroup mem-
ber may be seen as even more different from the self than a less-
stereotypical outgroup member, who may even be seen as possibly be-
longing to an ingroup as well (as suggested by the mediation analyses
from Study 1). These patterns are likely to be maintained over time
given that people appear to be largely unaware of discriminating
based on physical stereotypicality (Blair, Judd, & Fallman, 2004;
Sczesny & Kuhnen, 2004). As a result, individuals seeking to maintain
an image of themselves as non-prejudiced may do so by maintaining
friendships with less-stereotypical outgroup members, without
5M.R. Hebl et al. / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology xxx (2012) xxx–xxx
realizing that their outgroup friends are not necessarily representative
of the group as a whole.
It was notable in these results that Black stereotypicality was mar-
ginally positively correlated with numbers of Black (ingroup) friends
in Study 1, and in Study 2, Black participants were marginally more
likely to accept friend requests from more-stereotypical (vs. less-
stereotypical) Black targets. In Study 3, on the other hand, which in-
cluded all racial groups, there were no relationships between
stereotypicality and ingroup interaction. One possibility for this dis-
crepancy may be the greater amount of stigma experienced by Black
Americans than by other racial groups, which may increase Blacks' em-
pathy for the inherent risk that an ingroup member faces (particularly
one with a more-stereotypical appearance) in making an overture of
friendship. Although it is certainly true that stereotypicality-based dis-
crimination has historically occurred within the African-American com-
munity as well as outside of it (Russell, Wilson, & Hall, 1993), it is
possible that different norms apply to the domain of social interaction,
in which one person reaches out to another with a (literal) request for
acceptance and inclusion. We see this as an interesting area for future
One distressing implication of the present ﬁndings is the role they
may play in perpetuating cycles of intergroup avoidance and segrega-
tion. Research shows that one of the strongest predictors of seeking
out or positively anticipating a cross-race social interaction is having
had such interactions in the past that have gone well (Levin, van
Laar, & Sidanius, 2003; Page-Gould, Mendoza-Denton, Alegre, & Siy,
2010; Page-Gould, Mendoza-Denton, & Tropp, 2008; Wout, Murphy,
& Steele, 2010). Yet in general, people tend to avoid interracial inter-
actions, in part due to false assumptions that outgroup members are
uninterested in friendship with them (Shelton & Richeson, 2005;
Wilkins, et al., 2010; Williams & Eberhardt, 2008). Combined with
the present results, these ﬁndings suggest a lamentable, self-
perpetuating cycle based on pluralistic ignorance –exacerbated by
the perception of stereotypical physical appearance –such that indi-
viduals from different racial groups assume a desire for racial
homophily in the other and thus reinforce such homophily via mutual
In summary, the results presented here demonstrate that people
whose physical features are viewed as more stereotypical of their
group are particularly vulnerable to exclusion from meaningful social
connections with others outside their group. Future research should
incorporate the role of physical stereotypicality in producing the anx-
iety and animosity between groups that provides such a fertile cli-
mate for interpersonal segregation across racial lines.
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