Reactions to racism not as strong as we think
One reason racism persists is that many people imagine they would respond strongly to a racist act but actually respond with indifference, a new study led by York University shows. Published in the Jan. 9 issue of Science, "Mispredicting Affective and Behavioral Responses to Racism" examines why acts of blatant racism against blacks still occur with alarming regularity, even though being labeled as a racist in modern society has become a powerful stigma.
"People do not think of themselves as prejudiced, and they predict that they would be very upset by a racist act and would take action," said lead author Kerry Kawakami, a psychology professor in York's Faculty of Health. "However, we found that their responses are much more muted than they expect when they are actually faced with an overtly racist comment."
Kawakami led the study at York with graduate student Francine Karmali. University of British Columbia professor Elizabeth Dunn, an expert on people's ability to predict their future emotional responses, and Yale University professor John Dovidio, an expert on prejudice, are co-authors.
In the study, students who think they are waiting for an experiment to begin are exposed to racism. Specifically, a white confederate makes a racist comment about a black confederate when he briefly leaves the room. When he returns, the actual participant is asked to choose a partner to work with on a subsequent exercise.
"What we found was that students were more likely to choose the white confederate as a partner (63 per cent), despite the fact that the white person had made a racist comment about the black person," said Kawakami. "And the racist comments ranged from moderate to one of the most powerful anti-black slurs in the English language."
The findings may seem surprising at a time when America is about to inaugurate its first black president, but the election of one black man does not mean that racism is dead or that people will no longer tolerate acts of racism, Kawakami said.
Notably, there has been little research done on how people respond to prejudice toward others. However, University of British Columbia professor Elizabeth Dunn, one of the authors of the Science article, studies people's ability to predict their own affective and behavioural reactions.
"People often make inaccurate forecasts about how they would respond emotionally to negative events. They vastly overestimate how upset they would feel in bad situations such as hearing a racial slur," said Dunn. "One of the ways that people may stem the tide of negative emotions related to witnessing a racial slur is to re-construe the comment as a joke or as a harmless remark."
Further studies currently being conducted by these researchers are investigating how characteristics related to the racists and the target of prejudice increases or decreases emotional, behavioral, and physiological reactions to racial slurs. Examining people's perceptions of both the white and black confederate may provide important clues as to when people do and do not stand up against racism.
Source: York University
Articles on the same topic
- Study reveals surprisingly high tolerance for racismThu, 8 Jan 2009, 14:43:14 EST
- Gap in what we say vs. what we do about racismfrom AP ScienceSat, 10 Jan 2009, 10:35:31 EST
- Reactions to racism not as strong as we think, study findsfrom CBC: Technology & ScienceThu, 8 Jan 2009, 16:35:04 EST
- Surprisingly High Tolerance For Racism Revealedfrom Science DailyThu, 8 Jan 2009, 15:49:16 EST
- Study reveals surprisingly high tolerance for racismfrom PhysorgThu, 8 Jan 2009, 14:49:22 EST
Latest Science NewsletterGet the latest and most popular science news articles of the week in your Inbox! It's free!
Learn more about
Check out our next project, Biology.Net
From other science news sites
Popular science news articles
- Ancient mammal relatives were active at night 100 million years before origin of mammals
- Walking fish reveal how our ancestors evolved onto land
- New DNA study unravels the settlement history of the New World Arctic
- Electric current to brain boosts memory
- Radio telescopes settle controversy over distance to Pleiades