About 7 percent of white people, though, actually show a distinct lack of racism on probing psychological tests, says psychologist Robert Livingston of Northwestern University. Recently Livingston and Brian Drwecki of the University of Wisconsin studied these people to find out why they’re not racist and, by implication, why the rest of us are. It turns out that the nonracists share a unique emotional style: They rarely form any negative associations, whether they’re thinking about meaningless symbols or real human beings.
In their experiment, the researchers tested people’s tendency to form positive and negative associations by showing them written Chinese characters followed quickly by pictures of “good” things—like baby seals, flowers, and waterfalls—or pictures of “bad” things, like mutilated faces, snarling dogs, and feces. (Previous research has showed that Chinese characters are meaningless and appear neutral to English speakers.) The researchers presumed that the characters would take on positive or negative traits depending on what images they were paired with. And indeed, most people liked the characters that were paired with good pictures and disliked those linked to bad images.
A select few, though, did not form negative associations with Chinese characters. They made positive links just as often as anybody else, but the negative images didn’t stick in their minds. They seemed not to pay as much attention to negative information as others did and were less likely to form negative associations between two things. “They have rose-colored filters,” Livingston says.
It turns out these people are generally the same people who show no prejudice on the implicit racism test.