Not all that long ago, engaging in a romantic relationship with a member of another race was widely frowned upon. Some traditionalists still suspect such people are driven by a desire to defy societal norms, or perhaps the inability to get a more desirable, same-race partner.
Newly published research suggests they couldn't be more wrong.
A new study of university undergraduates in California found students engaged in interracial dating gave their partners higher ratings for attractiveness and intelligence than did their peers who were seeing someone of their own race.
A research team led by psychologist Karen Wu of the University of California-Irvine, reports these positive evaluations were persuasively communicated to their partners, and—at least on a level of physical attractiveness—were not illusory.
"We hypothesized that because interracial daters face social biases, their partners would have to possess higher levels of (certain) positive attributes to offset the costs of these biases."
"We hypothesized that because interracial daters face social biases, their partners would have to possess higher levels of (certain) positive attributes to offset the costs of these biases," the researchers write in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Their results indicate that may indeed be the case.
Wu and her colleagues describe three studies, the first of which featured 245 students at a West Coast public university. All reported they were currently in romantic relationships. After providing demographic information, including their race and that of their partner, participants "rated themselves, and estimated their romantic partners' ratings of them, on 27 positive self-attributes."
"Compared to intraracial daters, interracial daters reported that their partners viewed them more positively on cerebral, attractiveness, and relational (e.g., compassionate) attributes," the researchers report. There were no significant differences in self-ratings between the two groups.
A second study featured 100 heterosexual couples who had been together at least three months. The man and women "completed questionnaires in separate rooms," rating themselves and their partners on various positive attributes.
"We found that interracial daters rated their partners more positively on cerebral and attractiveness attributes," Wu and her colleagues write. They add that grade point averages, "which could be regarded as a more objective measure of cerebral attributes," did not differ significantly between the two groups.
For the final study, independent raters assessed the attractiveness of the individual members of 101 couples. "Interracial daters were rated as more physically attractive," the researchers write.
"Our results contradict historical stereotypes of individuals who date interracially as undesirable or inferior," the researchers conclude. "Interracial daters in our study were rated as possessing higher levels of desirable attributes, and were aware of being rated highly by their partners.
"This indicates that, at least in a diverse college sample, interracial relationships are unlikely to be motivated by a lack of dating opportunities within one's own ethnic group."
Wu and her colleagues caution that their data was among young people studying at a "demographically diverse institution" on the West Coast, "which has the highest rates of interracial marriage in the country." A similar study of people from previous generations, especially located in more tradition-bound areas, could easily yield different results.
Nevertheless, it's interesting to note that, among the coming generation of college-educated professionals, interracial relationships are not only common (representing 24 to 31 percent of couples in the three studies), but also marked by an above-average level of mutual appreciation.