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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ironic: Anti-Prejudice Experiments Show that Our Efforts are Making Things Worse

Image: Wikimedia Commons
A brilliant and game changing set of experiments on anti-prejudice efforts has been released in the Journal Psychological Science.  The hypothesis, which proved to stand up, said that self-motivated reasoning provides a greater influence against prejudice than a "controlled" approach, pressure exerted from outside sources.

We spend billions of dollars annually to combat racism and intolerance, but the methodology we currently employ seems to be worse than ineffective.  It actually induces the opposite effect.  The backfiring of this direct pressure approach may stem from rebellious and non-conformist mentality reactions.  The authors suggest that this approach deflates one's sense of autonomy and instructs the person to sacrifice the attempt at personal decision making in lieu of conforming to societal demands.  Often these demands are supported by equality laws, implying the pressure even of legal repercussion.

The experiments involved in this study are very impressive.  In one, brochures were given to a random selection of college students.  In another, 2 questionnaires were developed and distributed randomly to the subjects.  Per standard scientific procedure, control groups are present.

In each of these two experiments, one group received content worded, in my opinion, masterfully.  The subtlety in their creation allow for both sides to seem very reasonable not in the least suspicious.

I'll share here first the brochure except with the autonomous motivational approach.

"Why it's Important to Reduce Prejudice in Our Society
As a society, we hold the virtues of tolerance and nonprejudice in a very special
place - they are important because they increase open-mindedness and social
justice. Social justice is the vital ingredient in a free, fair, and peaceful society.
When equality and equity among human beings are achieved, there is less reason
for any group or individual to be unhappy...... 

It is also important to be nonprejudiced because it is so interesting to interact with and learn about people from other cultural and social groups. We live in a wonderful and diverse cultural community. That diversity makes our society great because it brings a wealth of knowledge and experience together. When we let go of prejudice, the rich diversity of society is ours to enjoy...... 

Not to mention, being open-minded is a real advantage to our mood and well-being. When there is less racial and cultural tension, people are happier and healthier, and better able to do the things they enjoy...... 

You are free to choose to value nonprejudice. Only you can decide to be an egalitarian person...... 

In today’s increasingly diverse and multicultural society, such a personal choice is likely to help you feel connected to yourself and your social world......"    


Here is the controlled approach, not to be confused with the Control Group.  This, typical in style of what is used in government funded programs.  You often hear Stamp Out, Eradicate, etc prejudice or racism.  We must stop using blatant instructions such as these, and be more tactful if we want to gain ground.  

"In today's society, you must control prejudice. In other words, being Canadian
means having an anti-prejudiced attitude. For instance, The Human Rights,
Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act prohibits discrimination in employment
based on the grounds of race, color, ancestry, place of origin, religious beliefs

Employers have an obligation to create a ‘no prejudice’ workplace, and
companies face legal liability for workplace prejudice or discrimination. The same
standards are being set in the education domain. In fact, a recent government
policy initiative by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada requires
that educators demand anti-prejudice classrooms. Teachers and students caught
displaying racist attitudes and behavior can face serious consequences, such as
termination or expulsion........ 

There are also social perks to controlling racism - for instance, low prejudiced people tend to be better liked than racists. The better we are at reducing prejudice, the more we are likely to fit in with today’s anti-prejudice norms. Research studies reveal that people with prejudiced attitudes are at risk of being excluded or ostracized. In one recent study, most people reported that their social groups at work and at school disapproved of prejudice and racism, and people feared being looked down upon if they made prejudiced or racist remarks........ 

In today’s multicultural society, we should all be less prejudiced.
We should all refrain from negative stereotyping. It is, after all, the politically and
socially correct thing to do, and it's something that society demands of us ."

The culmination of data supported their claim.  Control subjects lie right in the middle.  The self-motivated or "autonomous" approach works best.  The controlled approach, which we currently use in the public, actually raised prejudice levels.

How ironic.

Authors of
Ironic Effects of Antiprejudice Messages
How Motivational Interventions Can Reduce (but Also Increase) Prejudice

Lisa Legault,
Jennifer N. Gutsell and
Michael Inzlicht

Initially found via Science Daily, Published paper is HERE (costs money/membership).  Review version of this paper is available HERE.

Legault, L., Gutsell, J., & Inzlicht, M. (2011). Ironic Effects of Antiprejudice Messages: How Motivational Interventions Can Reduce (but Also Increase) Prejudice Psychological Science, 22 (12), 1472-1477 DOI: 10.1177/0956797611427918

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