Study Finds People Believe Themselves to Be Less Racist Than Is Actually the Case

A new study led by a social psychologist at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, has found that most people fail to recognize their own racism and believe themselves to be less racist than is actually the case.

Across three experiments. the research team surveyed participants and asked if they had ever participated in various activities such as laughing at a racist joke or using a racial slur. Several months later, the participants were provided with a list of racist behaviors that purportedly were done by a fellow student but were in fact based on the participants own behavior.

The results found that study participants consistently evaluated themselves as less racist than the “other” person, even though the racist behaviors were identical to their own. In further experiments, researchers manipulated for social pressure and social consensus in an effort to encourage participants to freely express their racial biases. Even then, participants maintained that they were not racist, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

The researchers hope to conduct further research regarding this issue. “Understanding why people fail to recognize their own racism — even when confronted with evidence of racism by their own definition — is a necessary step to reduce prejudice,” said Angela Bell, assistant professor of psychology at Lafayette College and the lead author of the study.

The full study, “Examining the Asymmetry in Judgements of Racism in Self and Others, was published in The Journal of Social Psychology. It may be accessed here.

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