COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH: Perceiving Discrimination

Project: Research project

Project Details


Research has shown that members of stigmatized groups will be particularly vigilant to cues that they or other members of their group are the victims of prejudice and discrimination. At the same time, however, it has also been shown that members of stigmatized groups are frequently unwilling to indicate that they have personally been the target of prejudice or discrimination, except when that discrimination is blatant. It has also been found that members of minority groups are particularly sensitive to discrimination directed at other members of their social group, but do not generally perceive that discrimination has occurred to them personally. Taken together, these findings suggest that stigmatized group members are both highly concerned about the occurrence of discrimination at large, and yet at the same time, when such discrimination actually occurs to them, they do not notice it, interpret it as due to some factor other than discrimination, or simply deny it.

Such paradoxical findings have both empirical and practical interest from a social psychological perspective. Understanding how and when individuals perceive discrimination has important implications for both the psychological health of the affected individuals, as well as the quality of cross-category social interactions and behavior. If individuals from stigmatized groups misperceive (either by over- or under-estimating) that events that occur to them are discriminatory, they may inappropriately avoid situations or individuals who are not in fact biased toward them, or may be unprepared to cope with or respond to true discrimination. Either error may have profound consequences for their well being, because perceptions of discrimination are associated with negative health outcomes. Furthermore, disagreements in perceptions of discrimination between or among individuals may lead to potential misunderstandings in intergroup relationships, and understanding these disagreements could help relieve some of this tension.

This project tests a 3-stage social-cognitive model of the perceptions of discrimination that can be used to understand the perceptions (or misperceptions) of discrimination on the part of stigmatized and non-stigmatized group members. The model proposes that individuals may or may not initially become suspicious that a behavior might be discriminatory, and secondarily they may or may not interpret the event as being caused by discrimination. Finally, they may choose either to report or not to report the discrimination publicly. Furthermore, it is proposed that the same contextual factors that increase perceptions of discrimination at one stage (for instance, initial perceptions), may simultaneously decrease its later interpretation or reporting. Unlike prior explanations, which only predict main effects of contextual variables on perceptions, the current approach predicts that different contexts will have different influences on sensitivity to discrimination, depending upon the stage being considered.

Effective start/end date9/1/008/31/04


  • National Science Foundation: $140,160.00


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