Nonverbal bias amid the pandemic: Race-based differences in distancing and perceptions of change


Dené Diedericks, Tonya Buchanan, Joshua Buchanan

Faculty Mentor(s)

Tonya Buchanan (Psychology)


Over 30% of Asian adults report experiencing race/ethnicity-based prejudice/discrimination since the outbreak of Covid-19 began, and the majority believe people express insensitive views about Asians more frequently (Pew Research Center, 2020). However, less is known about more subtle forms of bias (i.e., nonverbal and physical distancing). Across two studies, we examined perceptions of distancing behaviors amidst the coronavirus and the extent to which perceptions differ by race. Compared to pre-pandemic interactions, we expected participants to report increased distancing behaviors toward them and that perceptions of change would depend on race. Specifically, given the harmful rhetoric on the virus and its origin, we expected Asian Americans would report more distancing behaviors from others. Study 1 was conducted in the early months of the pandemic. MTurk workers (N=197) rated physical and nonverbal distancing behaviors toward them in the past week, and perceptions of changes in those behaviors compared to before the outbreak. Supporting our hypothesis, overall, participants reported experiencing greater distancing compared to pre-pandemic (e.g., physical distance, closed body posture, less eye contact; ts>3.05, ps<.003). While participants experienced a change toward more distant behaviors, this change was more extreme for Asian Americans for nonverbal distancing behavior involving closed body posture, t(187)=1.93,p>.03, d=.53. Study 2 replicated results with a students (N=140) later in the pandemic, with participants reporting greater physical and nonverbal distancing compared to pre-pandemic (all ts> 2.83, ps<.006). Once again, experienced changes in closed body posture were greater for Asian American participants, t(138)=1.87, p<04, d=.68. Implications for race-based biases are discussed. Keywords: Implicit bias, social distancing, race/ethnicity, pandemic, diversity


2 thoughts on “Nonverbal bias amid the pandemic: Race-based differences in distancing and perceptions of change”

  1. Thank you for investigating such an important topic. I think the pandemic will have affected us socially in so many ways and your study definitely touches on a significant issue!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *