I came across this article a while ago and have been thinking about it a lot since that “Plight of Mixed-Race Children” post a few days ago. I am generally still offended by that Freakonomics blog article, but maybe it’s a harsh reality that I don’t want to acknowledge. The study Levitt spoke of did have just over 90,000 participants. The “more attractive” thing really stuck out to me as being inappropriate. Then I remembered reading about this UCLA study…
(Daily Bruin) (U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES — A recent study by University of California — Los Angeles Assistant Adjunct Professor of Biology Jay Phelan concluded that biracial people are perceived as more attractive than “uniracial” people because they have more symmetric features.
Symmetry, according to Phelan, reflects an organism’s developmental stability and is strongly associated with longevity, health and fitness….
Symmetry, he found, was greater in heterozygous organisms. In other words, organisms are more symmetrical – and therefore potentially more “fit” – when their genes have two different alleles (for instance, one dominant allele and one recessive allele rather than two dominant or two recessive alleles).
Crossing organisms from different populations, he believed, would result in “hybrid vigor.” The theory was that their heterozygosity was making them stronger and healthier.
Genes produce enzymes that assist in bodily processes. When two slightly different enzymes are produced by heterozygous genes, the organism is “covered under a wider range of conditions,” he said.
Most humans are heterozygous in about 20 percent of their genes.
Assuming that biracial people are more heterozygous since they come from different populations (despite the debate surrounding the relative amounts of genetic variation within and among populations), Phelan started by measuring the symmetry of 99 UCLA student volunteers who were either biracial or uniracial.
Biracial people were defined as those whose mother and father were of different races, but each of their parents were uniracial. Both parents of the uniracial subjects were of the same race.
Phelan’s study concluded that biracial people were significantly more symmetrical than “uniracial” people. All 25 of the least symmetrical subjects were from uniracial groups, which were either Asian, black, Hispanic or white. Seven of the eight most symmetrical subjects were from biracial groups (Hispanic-white, Asian-white, black-white or Asian-Hispanic).
In addition, Phelan found that symmetry was about the same for all uniracial people no matter which group they were in, and about the same for all biracial people, regardless of racial background.
Phelan, however, did not want to stop merely with symmetry. He hypothesized that those who were more symmetrical would also be perceived as more attractive.
To determine attractiveness, 30 people then rated photos of the subjects who had been measured for symmetry on attractiveness, ranking them from one to seven (seven being the highest).
The results: Biracial people were perceived as significantly more attractive than “uniracial” people.
Emily Shin, a third-year psychology student and president of the UCLA Hapa Club, appreciates Phelan’s work.
“I think that it’s really great that people are doing research on hapa people, generally a group that’s marginalized,” Shin said.
She added, however, that there is some dissent in the hapa community about research like Phelan’s, which perpetuates the stereotype that hapas are on average, more attractive people.
“It makes hapa people, especially hapa girls, feel very objectified,” Shin added…..
David Zisser. “Study indicates mixed race, physical symmetry correlate.” University Wire. 2002.
I don’t know what I think of all this just yet. Right now I’m thinking, “If a majority of mixed-race children are struggling as Levitt’s article (which i initially brushed off as ridiculous mostly because of the attractiveness issue) suggests, then we need to help them because it doesn’t have to be that way.”