Main Themes in Dr. Plant's Research
Motivation to Respond without (and with) Prejudice
During the past 50 years there have been dramatic changes in racial attitudes in the United States, with White people’s self-reported attitudes toward Black people becoming considerably more positive. One of the persistent challenges for prejudice researchers is to understand the motivations underlying such nonprejudiced responses. Do they reflect sincere changes in personal attitudes or are they motivated by social pressure created by changes in the social milieu? A central premise of my research on motivation and the regulation of prejudice is that people who are interested in responding without prejudice vary in the reasons underlying their motivation. Whereas some people are internally motivated to respond without prejudice due to personally important nonprejudiced beliefs, it is also possible to be externally motivated to respond without prejudice. Externally motivated people attempt to control their expression of prejudice in order to avoid social disapproval that they anticipate would result if they responded with prejudice. In order to tap into these sources of motivation, we developed and validated scales to assess both internal and external of motivation to respond without prejudice toward Black people.
Our scales assessing these motivations have helped to elucidate many issues regarding the control and expression of prejudice. We find that people with deeply internalized motivation to respond without prejudice express little or no racial bias on computerized assessments that measure difficult to control racial bias. We even find that these internally motivated people respond with less prejudice when their ability to control is compromised through competing cognitive demands and alcohol intoxication. Our hope is that by identifying who is best able to respond without prejudice we will gain insight into how to assist others in the successful control of prejudice.
We also find that the source of people’s motivation to respond without prejudice plays an important role in the quality of intergroup interactions (e.g., interactions between people of different races, religions, and nationalities). For example, people’s motivation influences the specific types of goals and strategies that they pursue in intergroup interactions. People who are externally motivated to respond without prejudice tend to focus on themselves and avoiding responding in a negative, and specifically prejudiced, manner in intergroup interactions. Such a self-focus is consistent with their concern over the social disapproval that would occur if they were to respond with prejudice. In contrast, people who are internally motivated to respond without prejudice tend to focus on approaching a positive interaction and treating their interaction partner with respect. In addition, internally motivated people tend to focus more on the needs of their interracial interaction partners and even remember more of what their interaction partners share with them. Therefore, whereas externally motivated people tend to focus on avoiding prejudice and negative interactions, internally motivated people tend to focus on their partner’s needs and are more likely to experience positive interracial interactions.
Since the development of the internal and external motivation to respond without prejudice toward Black people scales, similar scales have been developed to explore people’s motivation to respond without prejudice toward a range of outgroups (e.g., women, gay men/lesbians). We have also developed scales to assess internal and external motivations to respond in a proenvironmental manner and to respond in a moral manner. These motivations help to elucidate people’s efforts toward regulating their own and other people’s behavior.
Some of our most recent work finds that people’s internal and external motivations to respond without prejudice toward Black people change in concert with sociopolitical events and perceptions of race relations over the past 14 years. As the perceived quality of race relations declined, external motivation decreased, whereas internal motivation increased. This suggests that external motivation to respond without prejudice is higher when people perceive that nonprejudice is normative and they are likely to face social sanction for expressions of prejudice. In contrast, when prejudice is seen as more prevalent, people with nonprejudiced personal standards perceive a mismatch between their personal nonprejudiced standards and reality. As a result, internal motivation is heightened. This work suggests that motivations can differentially change along with broader social perceptions depending on their source.
In addition, some of our recent work explores people’s motivations to respond WITH prejudice and even aggression toward political outgroup members (e.g., liberals aggressing toward conservatives and conservatives aggressing toward liberals). In these highly contentious political times, people may perceive that their political ingroup is approves of hostility toward the outgroup (e.g., sharing nasty memes). However, we find that this perception can foster outgroup aggression. We find that in the U.S. today, people’s personal acceptance of aggression toward political outgroups and their perception that other ingroup members (e.g., liberals or conservatives) approval of political aggression predicts people’s willingness to aggress against political outgroup members. We are exploring approaches to reduce political aggression and the perception that ingroup members approve of aggression toward the outgroup.
Antiprejudice and Nonprejudice
Building upon our work on motivations to respond without prejudice, our lab has begun to investigate antiprejudiced moral convictions. We theorized that in addition to the proscriptive moral convictions that tell us what we shouldn’t do if we want to avoid personal prejudice and discriminatory behavior (i.e., nonprejudiced convictions), people can also be motivated by prescriptive moral convictions that direct us to what we should do in order to proactively encourage equality (i.e., antiprejudice convictions). That is, antiprejudice is a proactive drive to combat discrimination which helps to explain when and why certain people get involved in the fight for social change and collective action. In our initial work we were particularly interested in whether people were actively involved in the fight to end discrimination toward outgroups (e.g., social or racial groups to which they did not belong).
To explore these issues, we developed a measure of antiprejudiced conviction that taps into the degree to which individuals believe that it is important for their racial group (e.g., White people) to actively fight against racial discrimination toward other groups (e.g., anti-Black discrimination). We find that responses to the antiprejudice measure predict antiracist collective action intentions above and beyond nonprejudiced convictions. For example, White Americans who reported greater antiprejudiced convictions were more likely to volunteer for an equal rights organization. Mounting work suggests that an antiprejudiced conviction is an important predictor of whether White Americans advocate on behalf of Black Americans.
Although our initial examinations into antiprejudice assessed people’s beliefs about how people in their racial group should behave, we think antiprejudice should best be measured and conceived of as a personal moral conviction about people’s own behavior. In addition, we have begun to examine how moral convictions regarding antiprejudice can be directed toward more than just racial groups. We have tailored versions of the antiprejudice measure for a variety of topics including sexism, environmentalism, 2nd amendment rights, Latino(a) immigrant rights, and support for science. For instance, recent work investigated the factors that precipitated antisexist collective action. We find that as people perceive more systemic sexism against women and view sexism as a persistent problem in America, they experience greater personal antisexist motivation (i.e., feel greater personal responsibility to proactively fight sexism). People who are more personally motivated to be antisexist in turn report greater intentions to participate in a variety of antisexist behaviors, including participating at rallies, writing to local government, and signing petitions.
Our research has also demonstrated that antiprejudice has behavioral implications in the field. For example, field work on protestors has found that antiprejudice predicts attendance at protests such as the March for Latino(a) immigrant rights above and beyond nonprejudice and internal motivation to respond without prejudice. Specifically, across three protests on Latino(a) immigrant rights in California and Florida, antiprejudice was the strongest predictor of protest attendance.
Our lab is continuing to examine antiprejudice and the implications of antiprejudice for collective action and confronting prejudice. In addition, we are interested in the factors that contribute to antiprejudiced and antisexist convictions and whether interventions can bolster these convictions.
We welcome any dialogue on these lines of research or on antiprejudice in general. If you have any questions about antiprejudice, please contact .
Multiple Forms of Intergroup Attitudes
Because being a member of a valued social group provides many benefits including protection, bolstered self-esteem, a sense of belonging, social support, and in some cases even material rewards, people are likely highly motivated to protect and retain their group membership. As a result, people may be sensitive to any threat that could lead them to be misidentified as an outgroup member, particularly if the outgroup is stigmatized or devalued. Fear of misidentification, which we have termed social contagion concerns, may be particularly pronounced when group membership is not easily identifiable and difficult to “prove.” Recent work in our lab explores the implications of social contagion concerns. These concerns lead to anxious and avoidant responses toward stigmatized outgroup members as well as the derogation of outgroup members with the goal of establishing to others that one is not a member of the stigmatized outgroup. For example, recent work has found that people who are strongly concerned about being misidentified as gay/lesbian are less likely to confront someone who is bullying a gay/lesbian target, and they are less likely to publicly support LGBT rights. Further, people with strong contagion concerns are more likely to act aggressively toward a gay/lesbian target. Ongoing work examines potential routes to decreasing these concerns and their pernicious implications.
In addition, recent work in our lab examines how morality and prejudice are related but distinct forms of intergroup attitudes. This is particularly the case for groups who are highly moralized, such as sexual minorities and religious groups. Our work specifically considers the distinct implications of moral judgments regarding behaviors and prejudiced attitudes regarding individuals. We find that in the realm of sexual orientation attitudes, moral judgments regarding gay/lesbian sexuality and prejudiced attitudes regarding gay men/lesbians are distinct attitudinal factors. Moral judgments are more strongly related to factors such as religiosity, political conservatism, ingroup protection, disgust, and automatic biases than are prejudiced attitudes. In contrast, prejudiced attitudes are more strongly related to factors including generalized outgroup antipathy, intergroup contact, outgroup restriction, anxiety, and anger than are moral judgments. We also find that moral judgments are more stable over time than are prejudiced attitudes. This work suggests that prejudiced attitudes and moral judgments are related but distinct forms of intergroup attitudes with unique features and correlates.