Stereotyping to Infer Group Membership Creates "Plausible Deniability" for Prejudice-Based Aggression
William T. L. Cox and Patricia G. Devine (In Press)
This paper reports a study demonstrating that inferring group membership from a stereotype provides “plausible deniability” for prejudice-based aggression, allowing people to evade external condemnations against prejudice.
Experimental Materials and Data Files
Participants administered painful electric shocks to an unseen male opponent who was either explicitly labeled gay or stereotypically implied to be gay. Identifying the opponent with a gay-stereotypic attribute produced a situation in which the target’s group status was privately inferred but plausibly deniable to others. Testing the plausible deniability hypothesis, we examined aggression levels as a function of internal (personal) and external (social) motivation to respond without prejudice. Whether plausible deniability was present or absent, participants high in internal motivation aggressed little and participants low in both internal and external motivation aggressed at high levels. The behavior of low internal, high external motivation participants, however, depended upon experimental condition. They aggressed at low levels when others could plausibly attribute their behavior to prejudice and at high levels when the situation granted plausible deniability. We discuss both obstacles to and potential avenues for prejudice reduction efforts.
William T. L. Cox, Lyn Y. Abramson, Patricia G. Devine, and Steven D. Hollon (2012)
Social psychologists fighting prejudice and clinical psychologists fighting depression have long been separated by the social– clinical divide, unaware that they were facing a common enemy. Stereotypes about others leading to prejudice (e.g., Devine, 1989) and schemas about the self leading to depression (e.g., A. T. Beck, 1967) are fundamentally the same type of cognitive structure. According to the integrated perspective on prejudice and depression, negative stereotypes (i.e., schemas) are activated in a Source, who expresses prejudice toward the Target, causing the Target to experience depression. This linking of prejudice and depression (i.e., “comorbid” prejudice and depression) can occur at the societal level (e.g., Nazis’ prejudice causing Jews’ depression), the interpersonal level (e.g., an abuser’s prejudice causing an abusee’s depression), and the intrapersonal level (e.g., a person’s self-prejudice causing his or her depression). The integrated perspective addresses several longstanding paradoxes, controversies, and questions; generates new areas of inquiry; and spotlights specific methods and findings that have direct cross-disciplinary applications in the battle against prejudice and depression. Ironically, some interventions developed by depression researchers may be especially useful against prejudice, and some interventions developed by prejudice researchers may be especially useful against depression.
Keywords: depression, prejudice, deprejudice, stereotyping, CBT