Anti-Prejudice Campaigns Do More Harm Than Good?

This is a photo of a hand excluding a green fish from a group of orange fish.A study in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science demonstrated that some anti-prejudice campaigns are not only ineffective, they may actually encourage prejudice.

The researchers found that autonomy-focused interventions, which emphasize anti-prejudice as a personal value, can effectively reduce prejudice. But controlling anti-prejudice messages, which focus on what people should and shouldn’t do, may actually increase prejudice.

In one experiment, the researchers asked participants to read anti-prejudice brochures with either a controlling or an autonomy-focused message. A third group read no brochure at all. Then, a questionnaire was used to measure prejudice. Participants who read the autonomy-focused brochure displayed less prejudice than did the other two groups. However, participants who had read the controlling brochure actually displayed more prejudice that those who read no brochure at all. Similar results were obtained in a second experiment.

Based on the results, the authors suggest that organizations should concentrate on emphasizing the personal benefits of diversity and nonprejudice, and avoid interventions that use pressuring language or prescribe specific, strict outcomes.

Observer Vol.25, No.1 January, 2012

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