Programs aimed at eradicating prejudice by authoritatively telling people not to discriminate against others may actually increase prejudices, according to research to be published in the scientific journal Psychological Science.
The results of the study suggest controlling anti-prejudice messages may actually be creating hostility toward the targets of prejudice.
“Controlling prejudice reduction practices are tempting because they are quick and easy to implement,” Lisa Legault, one of the study’s authors, explained. “They tell people how they should think and behave and stress the negative consequences of failing to think and behave in desirable ways. But people need to feel that they are freely choosing to be nonprejudiced, rather than having it forced upon them.”
The study found that people who read an “autonomy brochure” explaining why being non-prejudiced is personally valuable demonstrated less prejudice than those who read a “controlling brochure” that flatly said not to be prejudiced.
Participants who read a “controlling brochure” not only showed more prejudice than those who read the “autonomy brochure,” but showed more prejudice than participants who had not read a brochure at all.
Participants who read the “autonomy brochure,” on the other hand, showed less prejudice than both groups.
Legault suggested that anti-prejudice programs and organizations should focus on the reasons why diversity and equality are important and beneficial rather than simply condemning prejudice as wrong.
Jennifer Gutsell and Michael Inzlicht, from the University of Toronto Scarborough, co-authored the study.