In August 2016, Perception Institute set out to explore whether Americans generally show bias – implicit or explicit – toward natural hair worn by black women, and whether black women share this bias. The potential for ‘hair bias’ to limit both perceptions of self and opportunities in the workplace has a distinct impact on black women. If bias linked to hair is present, what are the implications for how we perceive the natural hair, beauty, and professionalism of black women? Do black women who wear their hair naturally perceive social stigma as it relates to their own hair choices vis-a-vis dominant norms? And, amid a growing natural hair movement among black women, can the science offer any solutions that can help reduce bias and promote positive perceptions of natural hair both for women themselves and among others who see them?
Using the “Good Hair” Survey, we measured black and white women’s explicit ratings of a range of hairstyles. We found:
The “Good Hair” Survey also explored the concerns, social pressures and experiences women have related to their own hair. We found:
The Hair IAT was used to assess implicit bias toward black women’s textured hair. A national sample of men and women, and a sample of women from an online natural hair community, completed the Hair IAT. The results of the Hair IAT show:
Our findings provide an important backdrop to recent events related to natural hair — from legal cases on hair professionalism to appropriateness in school — and have direct implications for future research and conversations related to black women’s experiences. This study is the first to use the Hair IAT and to conduct a national study of women’s anxiety linked to hair. The findings, while preliminary, present a robust set of data and Perception Institute is excited to invest further and grow this body of research.