Americans still linking blacks to apes

Crude historical depictions of African Americans as ape-like may have disappeared from mainstream U.S. culture, but research presented in a new paper by psychologists at Stanford, Pennsylvania State University and the University of California-Berkeley reveals that many Americans subconsciously associate blacks with apes.

In addition, the findings show that society is more likely to condone violence against black criminal suspects as a result of its broader inability to accept African Americans as fully human, according to the researchers.

Co-author Jennifer Eberhardt, a Stanford associate professor of psychology who is black, said she was shocked by the results, particularly since they involved subjects born after Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. “This was actually some of the most depressing work I have done,” she said. “This shook me up. You have suspicions when you do the work—intuitions—you have a hunch. But it was hard to prepare for how strong [the black-ape association] was—how we were able to pick it up every time.”

The paper, “Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequences,” is the result of a series of six previously unpublished studies conducted by Eberhardt, Pennsylvania State University psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff (the lead author and a former student of Eberhardt’s) and Matthew C. Jackson and Melissa J. Williams, graduate students at Penn State and Berkeley, respectively. The paper is scheduled to appear Feb. 7 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association.

The research took place over six years at Stanford and Penn State under Eberhardt’s supervision. It involved mostly white male undergraduates. In a series of studies that subliminally flashed black or white male faces on a screen for a fraction of a second to “prime” the students, researchers found subjects could identify blurry ape drawings much faster after they were primed with black faces than with white faces. The researchers consistently discovered a black-ape association even if the young adults said they knew nothing about its historical connotations. The connection was made only with African American faces; the paper’s third study failed to find an ape association with other non-white groups, such as Asians. Despite such race-specific findings, the researchers stressed that dehumanization and animal imagery have been used for centuries to justify violence against many oppressed groups.

“Despite widespread opposition to racism, bias remains with us,” Eberhardt said. “African Americans are still dehumanized; we’re still associated with apes in this country. That association can lead people to endorse the beating of black suspects by police officers, and I think it has lots of other consequences that we have yet to uncover.”

Scientific racism in the United States was graphically promoted in a mid-19th-century book by Josiah C. Nott and George Robins Gliddon titled Types of Mankind, which used misleading illustrations to suggest that “Negroes” ranked between “Greeks” and chimpanzees. “When we have a history like that in this country, I don’t know how much of that goes away completely, especially to the extent that we are still dealing with severe racial inequality, which fuels and maintains those associations in ways that people are unaware,” Eberhardt said.

Although such grotesque characterizations of African Americans have largely disappeared from mainstream U.S. society, Eberhardt noted that science education could be partly responsible for reinforcing the view that blacks are less evolved than whites. An iconic 1970 illustration, “March of Progress,” published in the Time-Life book Early Man, depicts evolution beginning with a chimpanzee and ending with a white man. “It’s a legacy of our past that the endpoint of evolution is a white man,” Eberhardt said. “I don’t think it’s intentional, but when people learn about human evolution, they walk away with a notion that people of African descent are closer to apes than people of European descent. When people think of a civilized person, a white man comes to mind.”
Consequences of socially endorsed violence

In the paper’s fifth study, the researchers subliminally primed 115 white male undergraduates with words associated with either apes (such as “monkey,” “chimp,” “gorilla”) or big cats (such as “lion,” “tiger,” “panther”). The latter was used as a control because both images are associated with violence and Africa, Eberhardt said. The subjects then watched a two-minute video clip, similar to the television program COPS, depicting several police officers violently beating a man of undetermined race. A mugshot of either a white or a black man was shown at the beginning of the clip to indicate who was being beaten, with a description conveying that, although described by his family as “a loving husband and father,” the suspect had a serious criminal record and may have been high on drugs at the time of his arrest.

The students were then asked to rate how justified the beating was. Participants who believed the suspect was white were no more likely to condone the beating when they were primed with either ape or big cat words, Eberhardt said. But those who thought the suspect was black were more likely to justify the beating if they had been primed with ape words than with big cat words. “Taken together, this suggests that implicit knowledge of a Black-ape association led to marked differences in participants’ judgments of Black criminal suspects,” the researchers write.

According to the paper’s authors, this link has devastating consequences for African Americans because it “alters visual perception and attention, and it increases endorsement of violence against black suspects.” For example, the paper’s sixth study showed that in hundreds of news stories from 1979 to 1999 in the Philadelphia Inquirer, African Americans convicted of capital crimes were about four times more likely than whites convicted of capital crimes to be described with ape-relevant language, such as “barbaric,” “beast,” “brute,” “savage” and “wild.” “Those who are implicitly portrayed as more ape-like in these articles are more likely to be executed by the state than those who are not,” the researchers write.
The way forward

Despite the paper’s findings, Eberhardt said she is optimistic about the future. “This work isn’t arguing that there hasn’t been any progress made or that we are living in the same society that existed in the 19th century,” she said. “We have made a lot of progress on race issues, but we should recognize that racial bias isn’t dead. We still need to be aware of that and aware of all the different ways [racism] can affect us, despite our intentions and motivations to be egalitarian. We still have work to do.”

For Eberhardt, two stories of race exist in America. “One is about the disappearance of bias—that it’s no longer with us,” she said. “But the other is about the transformation of bias. It’s not the egregious bias anymore, but it’s modern bias, subtle bias.” With both of these stories, she said, there is an understanding that society has moved beyond the historic battles centered around race. “We want to argue, with this work, that there is one old race battle that we’re still fighting,” she said. “That is the battle for blacks to be recognized as fully human.”

This research was supported by a Stanford University Dean’s Award to Jennifer Eberhardt.


  1. I don’t think it’s racism. Both my parents are far left liberals, and in NO way racist. My little sister is 3, and when she saw her first black person in the supermarket, she yelled “Monkey!” and pointed. My mother was mortified and apologized profusely. There’s no way a 3 year old daughter of Chinese, far left parents is racist. She just said what she thought.

  2. “Is no reason to be jealous of your superior black and brown human progenitors”
    This retarded racist POS just admitted that whites are further evolved in the human line than blacks or browns are, but I’m sure he’s too damned stupid to realize it! If the “blacks and browns” are the whites “progenitors”, then it would stand as a scientific fact that the whites evolved from them. As nature works, the evolved form is the most advanced and further adapted for continued survival. The older “progenitors” are marked for eventual extinction. Goodbye douchebags!

  3. Ok Luke, this is getting really ridiculous! I have told you over and over! Your small penis, pasty skin, greasy stringy animal hair, violent and destructive nature, lack of compassion. Is no reason to be jealous of your superior black and brown human progenitors! Just because we are beautiful hues of brown and the fact that we are made in Gods image with human features. The fact that you burn in the light of the sun… The very source of life on this planet, is not enough reason to be angry at your makers. You are descendant from EXTINT NEANDERTHALS., your skin, your hair, your violent nature is why we eradicated your paternal Neanderthal grandfathers. Luke, you now have a human Y chromosome, an African Y chromosome. That’s why many of you can now “tan” instead of just burn. That’s why many of you have less fur than your ancestors… Although many of you are still quite hairy. I ave included a link that shows who your ancestors are. And they don’t look black lol.

  4. It’s not racism, the more African a black person is, the more they do resemble prime apes. However I don’t see black people as animals. They are certainly human they just resemble more of the creatures they evolved from than other races. They can be very good people and I respect them but you can’t deny this fact. That’s fine though they have their own unique look. I’m not going to go around insulting them for it. I also don’t think I’m better because of it.

  5. I read the comments here and am shocked. What is going on in America. How can someone sit down and write a whole lot of words about a group of people they know nothing about. I want to believe the people commenting here have never interacted with a black man either in America or Africa. Neither has anyone been to Africa. Its a pity the heart of man is indeed wicked. No wonder your race is capable of such monstrous atrocities. Funny most of the people who commit the crimes are always the poor and lower class. They have no self worth or esteem and feel the black man is a threat to their way of life or an object to pour out their frustration. No well manner ed, achieving and accomplished human being would harbour so much hate. The whole world doesn’t share your idea of black America we all know the history of your country and why black America is the way it is today. White America should take responsibility for your failures and solve the problem. You can’t make a mockery out of it and expect it to go away. The problem would become a thorn in your flesh. You made these people this way it’s your responsibility to fix it. They don’t have the means, power or finance to move from the ashes. Not to mention the racial constructs in your society which hinders them from moving forward. You think you always need the poor to breed your working ants but when there are no jobs for these ants what will happen. Work with them manage diversity don’t think of equal opportunity. The playing field isn’t equal the black man can never be white. Humans are all different get them involved and find out what makes them different. Not by your stupid biased scientific studies. Harness their skills and build on it. I for one know black people like to trade they’ve been known for it for centuries. They are commercial and creative. If I employ them in my company I would put them in business development or marketing. I think I have said too much. Its just sad when I read things like this.

  6. I associate Jews and their Asian Scumbag Atheistic Pals
    with Pigz. And of course I associate Black Demrat Ghetto
    Trash with the Baboon.

    It only seems fitting given the state of 21st century America eh?

    But what to call the 30,000,000 uneducated drug dealing lowlife
    La Raza Mexicans you have invaded my country with hhmmm?

    PS We have a name for the Muslims your Prez loves so much.
    Sand ! Watch their protests you will understand the comparison
    to our own American Savages! LOL

    • Bernie & Bob, Really! The obvious problem the two of you have besides being highly illiterate is the disease that will cause the collapse of the this nation, namely being anti-science. The rest of the world is both leaving us in the dust while simultaneously laughing at the still unfortunate masses that believe in biblical mythology and their out dated desert deity Yahweh, who’s son by the way would have been very dark skinned with black hair and dark eyes.