After being caught calling one of his own Labour supporters a bigot when he thought he was off microphone, Gordon Brown has been apologizing and recanting his statement at every opportunity. His reference to Gillian Duffy as “a sort of bigoted woman” came after her comments about Eastern European immigration, something many in Britain feel is a growing problem. Of course, the news has focused on the aftermath of Brown’s gaffe and his attempts to apologize to Duffy. Meanwhile, Duffy seemed completely shocked that anything she said would have implied she was prejudiced. What the news has not focused on is whether or not she really is a bigot. Few people would agree they were in fact a bigot, despite their prejudicial views, because nobody ever thinks they are one.
Past research (using implicit measures and physiological responses) has shown that most people are prejudiced to some extent. But, most people, even those with extreme prejudices, deny such attitudes. According to recent research highlighted in the Journal of Applied Psychology, this may be because exposure to representations of prejudice in culture promotes the self-belief that individuals are not prejudiced. In a series of experiments, the authors exposed American participants to bigot stereotypes (through either priming or more explicit media representations) and found that those participants exposed rated themselves as less prejudiced than those who were not exposed beforehand. The authors suggest that this is due to cues of prejudice providing targets for downward social comparison. So, if exposure to bigot cues can lead people to believe they are less bigoted, then perhaps all the campaign focus on anti-immigration and the recent surge in support for racist parties like the BNP will lead other British people to think they are less bigoted than they actually are.