University of Missouri Researcher Finds a Bias Favoring Lighter Skin Tones Among Both Blacks and Whites

Cynthia Frisby, an associate professor of strategic communications at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, conducted a unique experiment which she contends shows a bias for light skin tones among both whites and blacks.

Professor Frisby took photographs of four models and, using computer software, altered their skin tones. She showed a set of photographs to 79 female college students who were asked which model would be better for an advertising campaign. The models were chosen randomly but each set of photographs had three different skin tones.

Over 40 percent of the participants in the research were African Americans. Yet 78 of the 79 respondents preferred the model with the lightest skin for the hypothetical advertising campaign. “My research shows that white consumers react to black models in advertisements in almost exactly the same way as black consumers react,” Professor Frisby said. “It seems that both groups prefer the light brown skin tone, whether it's a tan Caucasian or a light-skinned African American.”

Professor Frisby holds a master’s and a Ph.D. from the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Florida. She has been on the faculty at the University of Missouri’s journalism school since 1998.