Exploring discrepancies between anti-prejudice values and behavior

In today’s diverse workplaces, many organizations have implemented diversity and inclusion initiatives to foster an inclusive and respectful environment. While employees receive training on recognizing and confronting prejudice or discrimination, a noticeable gap exists between their stated intentions and actual behavior.

Interestingly, those who hold strong anti-prejudice values often believe they do not require training because they already consider themselves attentive to discrimination. In a joint research effort by international scholars, Eran Halperin, Anna Kende, and Tamar Saguy, we aimed to unravel this phenomenon and shed light on its underlying causes. The findings of this study were recently published in Nature’s Scientific Reports journal.

Unraveling the Discrepancy

Our research investigated the relationship between individuals’ anti-prejudice values and their behavior when confronted with instances of prejudice. By conducting studies in the United States and Hungary, we sought to understand why individuals expressing anti-prejudice values fall short of confronting prejudice in real-life situations despite their hypothetical willingness to do so.

Surprisingly, our findings revealed that individuals with strong anti-prejudice values tend to overestimate their confronting behavior compared to those with more prejudiced views, even though the actual rates of confronting were similar.

Studying Behavior of Confronting Prejudice

To gain a comprehensive understanding of this disparity, we conducted four studies in both the United States and Hungary (with 1,116 participants in total), focusing on prejudice towards various minority groups, including African Americans, Muslims, Latinos in the US, and Romani people in Hungary. Employing a behavioral paradigm, we measured participants’ actual confronting behavior.

We designed an experiment that involved majority members of society engaging in an online game, which was carefully pre-programmed. Participants observed a player displaying discriminatory behavior towards a minority individual and subsequently received a private message containing a prejudiced statement, such as “You can’t trust those damn Muslims”, or “Yeah like if you could only trust Latinos not stealing our jobs”. The decision to confront and to stop the discrimination rested solely with the bystander participant as nobody else was present in that messaging.

Motivational Optimism

Our study proposes that individuals with egalitarian values are more likely to hypothetically confront prejudice but less likely to do so in actual situations. Remarkably, this effect was consistent across different intergroup contexts and countries, thereby strengthening the generalizability of our findings.

We further aimed to explain this effect and argued that anti-prejudiced individuals, motivated to believe they would confront prejudice, tend to underestimate the power of the situation. In contrast, individuals with more prejudiced views do not possess such motivations and tend to have a more realistic perception of their tendency to intervene. Accordingly, uncertainty how to intervene in the situation explained the tendency to overestimate confrontation among anti-prejudiced individuals (but not among those who were more prejudiced).

Implications and Conclusion

In conclusion, our research sheds light on the disparity between individuals’ anti-prejudice values and their actual behavior in confronting prejudice. We emphasize the importance of measuring actual behavior rather than relying solely on self-report accounts of intentions when studying prejudice and intergroup behavior.

Moreover, promoting egalitarian values alone may not be sufficient to motivate individuals to actively combat prejudice. Future research should focus on bridging the gap between intentions and behavior, exploring effective strategies to reduce prejudice and foster intergroup harmony.

Our findings call for individuals to reflect on their own behavior and motivations when faced with prejudice, encouraging a more introspective approach to combating discrimination. The implications extend to the development of more effective prejudice reduction programs, which should address behavioral uncertainty and equip individuals with the necessary tools to bridge the gap between intentions and behavior.

At a broader societal level, our research underscores the significance of measuring actual behavior, leading to evidence-based policies and practices that actively promote intervention against prejudice, thus contributing to improved intergroup relations and a more inclusive society.

Through understanding the complexities of anti-prejudice behavior, we can work towards creating workplaces and communities that genuinely embody the values of diversity, inclusion, and respect.

The study, “The aversive bystander effect whereby egalitarian bystanders overestimate the confrontation of prejudice“, was published on June 29, 2023.


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