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Hraba, J. & Grant, G. (1970)
Black is Beautiful: A Re-examination of Racial Preference and Identification
study by Hraba and Grant (1970) replicates a classic investigation by
Clark and Clark. Clark and
Clark (1947) developed a simple test using black and white dolls.
They found that black children preferred white dolls when asked to
choose which were nice, which they would like to play with and which were
a nice colour. And chose black dolls when asked which dolls looked bad.
and Clark suggested that black children had negative attitudes towards
themselves and their cultural background.
and Grant were interested to find out if the childrens’ preference for
white dolls had changed considering the changes (particularly the civil
rights movements of the 1960s which in part led to less segregation
between black and white people) that had happened in the USA since the
Clark and Clark study had been carried out.
aim of the study was to replicate Clark & Clark’s study to
re-examine the racial preferences of black children in an interracial
The study was a quasi (sometimes called natural)
experiment. The independent
variable was the race of the child being asked (white or black) and the
dependent variable was the child’s racial preference, racial awareness
and racial self-identification.
it could also be argued that a further independent variable is the time in
which the study was done as Hraba and Grant were comparing their results
from 1969 with the results from Clark and Clark from 1939.
160 participants aged between four and eight years all attended primary
schools in Lincoln, Nebraska.
of the children were Black (60% of the Black children attending school in
of the children were White. These
children were randomly selected from the classrooms containing black
the town of Lincoln at the time 1.4% of the total population were Black,
and in the first five schools used in the study the proportions of Black
children were 3%, 3%, 3%, 7% and 18%.
70% of the Black children in the study reported that they had White
sample therefore seems to consist of children in an interracial setting.
Hraba & Grant’s study was a replication of Clark & Clark (1947),
they followed the same procedures as far as possible.
children were interviewed individually using a set of four dolls:
two Black and two White, but identical in all other respects.
The children were asked the same questions used by the Clarks. They
were as follows:
1-4 were attempting to measure racial
preference, items 5-7 measuring awareness
or knowledge, and item 8 measuring racial
& Grant also asked the children and their teachers to name the race of
the child’s best friends to assess the behavioural consequences of
racial preference and identification.
& Grant controlled for the race of the interviewer, by assigning the
children to both black and white interviewers.
Percentage responses to the racial preference questions
that, in the Hraba & Grant, Lincoln study, Black children and White
children preferred the doll of their own ‘race’.
White children were significantly more ethnocentric
(i.e. preferring dolls of the same colour) on items 1 and 2, there
was no difference on item 3 and the Black children were significantly more
ethnocentric on item 4.
earlier studies by the Clarks
had found that Black children had preferred
White dolls at all ages - although this preference did decreased
& Grant found that Black children
of all ages preferred a Black doll and this preference increased with age.
Clarks had classified their subjects by skin colour into three categories:
light (practically White), medium (light brown to dark brown), and dark
(dark brown to black). Hraba
& Grant therefore used the same criteria and found no trend whereas
the earlier Clarks’ study found that children of light skin colour
showed the greatest preference for the White doll and the dark children
items 5 to 8 (racial awareness and self identification) Hraba & Grant
obtained similar results to those of Clark & Clarks. The children made
very few errors.
also found that the race of the interviewer had no effect on the choices
of either the Black or the White children.
they found that there was no relationship between race of friends for both
Black and White children on their doll preference.
questionnaire used a ‘forced choice technique’ and this method does
not give any indication of the strength of the attitude.
Therefore the attitude that is expressed may appear to be much more
strongly held than it is. If
a child prefers the white doll this does not mean he or she is rejecting
the black doll.
of the questions is slightly dubious.
The question which states, ‘Give me the doll that looks bad,’
could be interpreted in a number of ways.
Does the question mean does it look horrible, or does it look
naughty? This also
raises the question that perhaps some of the results may have been due to
the children responding to demand characteristics and trying to work out
what the experimenters wanted them to say. This may have been more evident in the 1939 study when racial
discrimination was far more in evidence universally than it is nowadays.
children in Lincoln might not have been representative of the population
as a whole. The black
community in Lincoln was only 1.4% of the whole and the chances are that
they would have integrated far more with the white community than if they
had been a much larger group. Their cultural differences would also
therefore have been small, whereas if there is a large group of people of
a certain ethnicity then they are more likely to stay together and retain
their cultural norms.
can be argued that doll choice is not really a valid measure of racial
preference or identity. This is a very limited way of measuring something as complex
as an individual’s identity.
main methodological strength of the study must have been the amount of
control the study had. The researchers were able to keep as far as possible
much of the procedure constant. For
example they could control the order of the questions, the dolls and even
the race of the interviewers. Such
control enables the researchers to be more precise about statements of
cause and effect and allows the study to be easily replicated.
& Grant give a number of explanations for why their results in 1969
are very different from the doll choices in 1939.
it is likely that Black children in 1969 were more proud of their race
than they were in 1939.
it is possible that children in Lincoln, unlike those in the cities, might
have chosen Black dolls in 1939. Obviously
this explanation can not be examined further.
the growth of organisations in the Black community might have enhanced
Black pride. During the
periods 1967-1969 a black pride campaign, sponsored by organisations which
were black conscious was aimed at adolescents and young adults in Lincoln.
Black children through their interactions with kin and friends may
have modelled these attitudes.
inter-racial contact such as in nursery or school might create Black
is difficult to say which explanation is correct but what is important is
that we see psychological studies in an historical context.
and Clark’s study was carried out towards the end of the 1930s when most
states had policies on segregation, and Black people were excluded from
White areas and denied access to education, housing, welfare, politics and
and Grant’s study was carried out in 1969.
The 1960’s saw the growth of the civil rights movement
and the growth of the Black religious and political organisations and
figures. These changes led to
some improvement in the opportunities and expectations for Black people in
Since that time, Black people have made many advances within US society and now occupy an important place in the democratic structure. Despite this, the majority of Black people are still economically disadvantaged and the object of considerable racism.
Hraba, J. & Grant, G. (1970) Black is beautiful: A re-examination of racial preference and identification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16, 398-402
GROSS, R. (1999) Key Studies in Psychology, 3rd Edition. London: Hodder and Stoughton
BANYARD, P. AND GRAYSON, A. (2000) Introducing Psychological Research; Seventy Studies that Shape Psychology, 2nd Edition. London: Macmillan