The lay theory of race refers to beliefs about the nature of race and racial categories. It is important for intercultural competence because it sets up a framework within which individuals interpret and organize information related to race, ethnicity, and culture. This entry examines the essentialist and constructivist theories of race, explores how these theories influence perception and cognition, and suggests the limitations imposed by the essentialist theory.

In many societies around the globe, there are social disparities that are linked with groups of people with distinct outer physical characteristics (e.g., skin tone, hair texture, nose shape, body type, etc.), behavioral tendencies, performance, and personality traits. To understand these disparities and make sense of the social world in general, people, as though they are naive scientists, ...

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