Scientific Reports

The impact of socioeconomic and phenotypic traits on self-perception of ethnicity in Latin America

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Self-perception of ethnicity is a complex social trait shaped by both, biological and non-biological factors. We developed a comprehensive analysis of ethnic self-perception (ESP) on a large sample of Latin American mestizos from five countries, differing in age, socio-economic and education context, external phenotypic attributes and genetic background. We measured the correlation of ESP against genomic ancestry, and the influence of physical appearance, socio-economic context, and education on the distortion observed between both. Here we show that genomic ancestry is correlated to aspects of physical appearance, which in turn affect the individual ethnic self-perceived ancestry. Also, we observe that, besides the significant correlation among genomic ancestry and ESP, specific physical or socio-economic attributes have a strong impact on self-perception. In addition, the distortion among ESP and genomic ancestry differs across age ranks/countries, probably suggesting the underlying effect of past public policies regarding identity. Our results indicate that individuals’ own ideas about its origins should be taken with caution, especially in aspects of modern life, including access to work, social policies, and public health key decisions such as drug administration, therapy design, and clinical trials, among others.