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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type

Masters Thesis

Department or Program Affiliation

Experimental Psychology

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Gonzalez, Antonya

Second Advisor

Jantzen, Kelly J.

Third Advisor

Czopp, Alex

Fourth Advisor

Symons, Larry


During economic downturns, socioeconomic and health disparities between Whites and BIPOC tend to widen, and negative attitudes towards BIPOC increase - a pattern most recently seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. While structural inequalities likely contribute to these effects, contemporary work suggests that conditions of scarcity can influence racial perception and categorization, leading to discrimination. Indeed, White individuals are biased to categorize racially ambiguous individuals as Black, more often than White, in times of economic scarcity, which is then linked to discriminatory behavior toward those individuals. However, it remains unclear if this phenomenon persists when categorizing members from two racial outgroups. Across six studies, the following thesis tests how scarcity alters Whites’ perception and categorization of racially ambiguous faces along a Black to White, Asian to White, and Black to Asian continuum. Using a meta-analytic approach, results indicate that financial stress and experiencing events that negatively impact financial security prompt a perceptual bias among White perceivers to categorize faces as Black. In contrast to previous research, we did not find robust evidence that subliminally priming scarcity, negative concepts, or neutral concepts influences racial categorization. However, negative associations with Asians that have arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic appear to interact with perceivers’ financial security to elicit a perceptual bias to categorize faces as Asian. Taken together, the present work provides novel insights into the mechanisms and contexts possibly requisite for economic scarcity to influence perceivers’ intergroup boundaries at a perceptual level.




social categorization, face perception, scarcity, economic downturn, racial ambiguity


Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Minorities--Economic conditions; Minorties--Employment; Race discrimination--Economic aspects; Social status




masters theses




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