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Seeing Diversity Lessens Discrimination

Collage of faces of different ages, races, and ethnicities

Problem

Prejudice and discrimination make life hard for many people around the world.

Solution

Showing that other groups are made up of diverse individuals reduces prejudice and discrimination...

Details

In a series of studies conducted in France, social psychologists Markus Brauer and Abdelatif Er-rafiy tested whether representing a wide variety of Arabs would break the perception that “all Arabs are alike,” and so soften the attitudes and actions of French people.
 
The research team first randomly assigned 24 classrooms in 4 high schools to display the poster below for two weeks. The poster features photographs of 12 young Arabs of different appearances with the message, “What makes us the same...is that we are all different.”   
 
 
Meanwhile, the team randomly assigned another 24 classrooms in 4 additional high schools not to display the poster. The researchers made sure  the schools in this control condition matched the schools in the poster condition in student body size, socioeconomic status, ethnic composition, and location (rural versus urban). 
 
Several weeks later, Brauer and his colleagues discovered that the 500+ students in the poster condition had more positive attitudes toward Arabs and viewed them as more variable than did the 500+ students in the control condition. Students in the poster condition were also more willing to sign a petition to reduce discrimination against Arabs than were students in the control condition. Related studies confirmed that the poster worked not by making Arab faces more familiar, but by making students more aware that Arab people, like French people, are a heterogeneous group. 

Why This Works 

When we view another group as homogenous—that is, made up of people who are more or less the same—we more readily apply stereotypes to, feel prejudice toward, and discriminate against that group. But we have trouble maintaining hostile thoughts, feelings, and actions toward a group we see as being rather variable. Showing people that a group comprises individuals with a wide variety of qualities helps breaks the stranglehold of “they’re all alike” thinking, and then leads people to develop more nuanced views of that group.

When This Works Best

Brauer and his colleagues have replicated their finding that increasing perceptions of group heterogeneity decreases bias using
  • A variety of techniques (e.g., portraying out-group members as having diverse opinions, characteristics, and subgroups)
  • In a variety of locations (e.g., the U.S., Canada, and France)
  • Among a variety of participants (e.g., high school students, college students, working adults)
  • Regarding a variety of groups (Blacks, Arabs, student athletes)
  • On a variety of measures (self-reported attitudes, implicit attitudes, hiring decisions, and helping behaviors).

In many of these studies, the researchers find their intervention works best when they convey the positive AND negative characteristics of the group in question. Conveying only positive characteristics both reinforces the perception that the group is homogenous and elicits suspicion from participants. Portraying groups as possessing positive and negative characteristics, however, helps participants trust the message that the group is just as diverse as their own.  

Original Study

Brauer, M., & Er-rafiy, A. (2011). Increasing perceived variability reduces prejudice and discrimination. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(5), 871-881.

See Also

Brauer, M., Er-rafiy, A., Kawakami, K., & Phills, C. E. (2012). Describing a group in positive terms reduces prejudice less effectively than describing it in positive and negative terms. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology48(3), 757-761.

Submitted By

Markus Brauer, Ph.D.