Tag Archives: race

Reshaping reality by reshaping social perceptions: the power of talk in promoting equality

By: Christopher C. Duke, Ph.D.

If you have taken an introductory social psychology class, you have probably heard of stereotype threat. This is a phenomenon where making people aware of a stereotype that could refer to the self increases the chance that the stereotype will come true. For example, on math tests where the students’ gender is made salient, women tend to perform worse than men. When the researchers emphasized to participants that gender scores on the test tended to be equal, their scores became equal. The same difference has been found on tests between black and white students; when the students’ race was emphasized, black students’ scores were lower than white students, but when equality was emphasized, the scores were the same.

While there are still competing explanations for why stereotype threat occurs, it is a very well documented phenomenon that can help to explain demographic achievement gaps. Fortunately, there are ways to counter the negative effects of stereotype threat and reduce demographic inequalities. One of the earliest ways discovered is to emphasize the expected positive outcomes on a task for under-achieving groups. While this does work, it is not always practical in real-world situations. An ideal solution would be a brief intervention with long-lasting effects that could work across many different situations. Smith and Postmes (2011) found that allowing small groups to discuss and challenge the validity of the stereotype can also reduce stereotype threat, though the duration of this promising positive effect was not fully known. This suggests groups can use discussion to reinterpret negative group stereotypes in a way that can empower the group and overcome negative effects.

A new study in Science advances our knowledge of the positive potential stereotype threat interventions (Walton & Cohen, 2011). The researchers theorized that stereotype threat occurs in part when people construe feelings of social adversity as an indictment of their social belonging. If social adversity can be portrayed by students themselves as universal to all students but temporary, then the negative effects of stereotype threat might be reduced. In the experiment, black and white first-year college students were subtly encouraged to generate such messages in the hopes that it would have long-lasting positive effects throughout their university career. This is indeed what happened, and the effects were powerful and long-lasting: compared to a control group, black students who received the intervention as freshmen achieved higher grades. Not only were their academic scores better, but they reported better health and they visited the doctor less, too. These effects were mediated by the students’ subjective construal of adversity; this means that feelings of social belonging are likely to be a key part of the process in reducing stereotype threat. Interestingly, students did not attribute these positive effects to the brief intervention they experienced three years earlier. Considering the brevity of the intervention, and the durability of its effects, this appears to be a very powerful tool in reducing demographic achievement gaps. More research is needed to better understand the processes behind and effects of the intervention, but it speaks to the power of social expectations to cripple our accomplishments, and yet also of our power to take steps to consciously reshape the social landscape in a way that leads to real and lasting change for the better. People often lament that we talk too much about problems instead of taking action; in some cases, talking may be one of the best actions we can take.

Smith, L. G. E., & Postmes, T. (2011). Shaping stereotypical behaviour through the discussion of social stereotypes. British Journal of Social Psychology, 50, 50-74.

Walton, G. M., & Cogen, G. L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science, 331, 1447-1451.

Priming racist symbol promotes racist voting

By: Erica Zaiser

Since the media is already beginning to review the last US presidential election in order to predict the next one, I thought it would be a good time to discuss a recent article in Political Psychology about the 2008 election. In their pre-election study, the researchers found that priming images of the confederate flag decreased white voters willingness to vote for Obama. Even when assessing a hypothetical black candidate, white participants evaluated the candidate more negatively after being exposed to the confederate flag. However, this wasn’t just an increase in negative attitudes in general, because there was no effect on attitudes towards white candidates.

This isn’t particularly surprising when you think about it. As the authors explain, by priming the confederate flag,  negative attitudes towards blacks are more accessible. However, these studies are good examples of how something somewhat obvious for psychologists in the lab is still striking when you think about the ramifications it can have in the “real world”. Especially when you realize that the results were controlling for political orientation and personal racial attitudes. So it wasn’t that people who already held strong racist views were reminded of their own beliefs; instead, people exposed to the image accessed a set of racist cultural beliefs that the flag represents, regardless of their personal attitudes towards race or politics.

I wanted to write about this because it’s interesting and important to be aware of. I am also worried that psychologists shouldn’t draw too much attention to this effect or we are going to see this type of priming used (or used more) on the campaign trail.

Read more: Exposure to confederate flag affects willingness to vote for Obama

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Does Racial Profiling Give White Criminals an Advantage?

The New York Times recently reported a study from the Center for Constitutional Rights in which it was revealed that Black and Latino people were nine times more likely to be stopped and frisked by police in New York. As the article notes, this study was a response to issues that the organization feels are a result of a Supreme Court decision to allow officers to “briefly” detain people for “reasonable suspicion.” What they found is that even though people of color are stopped for “reasonable suspicion” more often, they are not arrested any more often than white individuals. Interestingly enough, white people were found to be arrested and possess a weapon slightly more often.

Numerous scholars have shown the obvious negatives effects of police stereotyping, or profiling as it is termed, on people of color. However, an interesting consequence to think about is the amount of White “blue-collar” criminals not getting stopped because they do not fit the stereotype, or profile, of a “blue-collar” criminal. In fact, in a 1996 study, Gordon, Michels, and Nelson, showed that people significantly underestimated the amount of “blue-collar” crimes that White criminals commit. Moreover, Gordon and his colleagues found that White criminals are overly estimated to be “white-collar” criminals, as opposed to “blue-collar” criminals. Therefore, it is likely that some of the results presented in the New York Times article are due, at least to some degree, to the fact that white people do not fit the stereotype (i.e. profile) of a “blue-collar” criminal. Consequently, racial profiling may be allowing some criminals to walk free because they do not fit the profile and are therefore not eliciting “reasonable suspicion”.

“New York Minorities More Likely to Be Frisked” New York times article.

Gordon R. A., Michels, J. L., & Nelson, C. L. (1996). Majority Group Perceptions of Criminal Behavior: The Accuracy of Race-Related Crime Stereotypes. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 26, 148-159.

Guns, race and evolution.

The recent shooting of American soldiers by a Muslim American military psychiatrist at Fort Hood made many Muslim Americans fear that this single attack in Texas will undermine the progress that has been made in relations between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans. They are worried that the outgroup homogeneity would lead people to make the false assumption that a Muslim man committing a crime is representative of other Muslims. Their worries may have a good reason.

Humans are a tribal species. The social psychological literature on intergroup relations is rich and diverse. For example, studies demonstrated that people make spontaneous ingroup-outgroup categorization and favor ingroup over outgroup members in a wide variety of situations. Furthermore, people have a specific stance with respect to outgroups and intergroup situations. When intergroup relations are salient, people readily show prejudice against members of outgroups and find it easy to morally justify  intergroup aggression and violence. The traditional explanation of these phenomena focuses on people’s ingroup psychology. That is, being a highly social and cooperative species, humans likely possess tendencies to exalt the ingroup. As a byproduct of favoring ingroups, people will show indifference toward, or worse, a dislike for outgroups. Recently, Mark Van Vugt and Justin H. Park offered another explanation that treated negativity toward outgroups as psychological tendencies –warfare and disease avoidance. More specifically, people are more likely to infrahumanize (e.g. denying outgroup member’s typical human qualities such as politeness and civility) members of outgroups, particularly when these outgroups constitute a coalitional treat. Moreover, for people within any given culture, certain outgroups may appear especially foreign with respect to disease-relevant domains, such as food preparation and hygiene practices. Because each culture has developed (via cultural evolution) its own set of practices for preventing infection, cultures with different practices – especially in the domains of food preparation and hygiene – may be perceived as posing disease threats. Thus, the perception of outgroups, particularly those that are subjectively foreign, may activate disease avoidance responses.

The evolutionary framework also makes various suggestions for interactions to improve intergroup relations, such as altering the perceptual cues that elicit threat responses toward particular outgroups,  or changing the specific cognitive and affective responses toward outgroups.

In the wake of Fort Hood: Prejudice is not the answer.

 

Mark Van Vugt & Justin H. Park. (2009). Guns, Germs, and Sex: How Evolution Shaped Our Intergroup Psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3,927-938.