Familiarity is said to breed contempt. But it also can foster tolerance.
Unconscious prejudice towards blacks and the elderly can be significantly decreased by exposing people to images of admired members of those groups, according to a new series of experiments conducted by University of Washington psychologists.
The results, showing drops of one-third to one-half in levels of unconscious prejudice that lasted for at least 24 hours, will be reported this week at a symposium on the psychology of prejudice at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Society in Denver. The session will start at 8:30 a.m. Friday in Adam's Mark Hotel Denver. The research also focuses on how media portrayals of minorities and other stigmatized groups can perpetuate prejudice and stereotypes.
"I think these experiments provide a great deal of hope for changing unconscious prejudice that, until now, has been accepted as being fixed and immutable, said Nilanjana Dasgupta, a UW post-doctoral researcher funded by the National Science Foundation.
Dasgupta conducted this work in collaboration with Anthony Greenwald, a UW psychology professor and developer of the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a tool that measures the unconscious components of prejudice. In a series of tests conducted on the World Wide Web in the last eight months involving more than 50,000 Americans, Greenwald and Yale University colleague Mahzarin Banaji demonstrated that 80 percent to 85 percent of white Americans unconsciously prefer whites over blacks.
The Web version of the IAT also demonstrated high levels of unconscious gender stereotyping and prejudice against the elderly. These high levels of unconscious prejudice contrast sharply with conscious or explicit beliefs and statements by most Americans, who say they favor equal treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender and age.