Ironic Effects of Anti-Prejudice Messages

(Medical Xpress) -- Organizations and programs have been set up all over the globe in the hopes of urging people to end prejudice. According to a research article, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, such programs may actually increase prejudices.

Lisa Legault, Jennifer Gutsell and Michael Inzlicht, from the University of Toronto Scarborough, were interested in exploring how one’s everyday environment influences people’s motivation toward prejudice reduction.

The authors conducted two experiments which looked at the effect of two different types of motivational intervention – a controlled form (telling people what they should do) and a more personal form (explaining why being non-prejudiced is enjoyable and personally valuable).

In experiment one; participants were randomly assigned one of two brochures to read: an autonomy brochure or a controlling brochure. These brochures discussed a new campus initiative to reduce prejudice. A third group was offered no motivational instructions to reduce prejudice. The authors found that, ironically, those who read the controlling brochure later demonstrated more prejudice than those who had not been urged to reduce prejudice. Those who read the brochure designed to support personal motivation showed less prejudice than those in the other two groups.

In experiment two, participants were randomly assigned a questionnaire, designed to stimulate personal or controlling motivation to reduce prejudice. The authors found that those who were exposed to controlling messages regarding prejudice reduction showed significantly more prejudice than those who did not receive any controlling cues.

The authors suggest that when interventions eliminate people’s freedom to value diversity on their own terms, they may actually be creating hostility toward the targets of prejudice.

According to Dr. Legault, “Controlling prejudice reduction practices are tempting because they are quick and easy to implement. They tell people how they should think and behave and stress the negative consequences of failing to think and behave in desirable ways.” Legault continues, “But people need to feel that they are freely choosing to be nonprejudiced, rather than having it forced upon them.”

Legault stresses the need to focus less on the requirement to reduce and start focusing more on the reasons why diversity and equality are important and beneficial to both majority and minority group members.


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Jul 07, 2011
People generally do rebel against being ordered how to think and/or behave. Witness the (lack of) effectiveness of the war on drugs and the war on tobacco.

Such campaigns usually promote half truths, untruths and unproven opinions as if they were fact. People naturally rebel against such attempts at manipulation.

On the plus side, the results of the tests in the article were likely to have been due to greater expression of prejudice than due to an actual increase in prejudice.

Jul 07, 2011
Such campaigns usually promote half truths, untruths and unproven opinions as if they were fact. People naturally rebel against such attempts at manipulation.


Any examples? I'm looking for examples of anti-prejudice campaigns that "promote half truths, untruths and unproven opinions as if they were fact."

Jul 07, 2011
I was speaking in general about the lack of effectiveness of the war on drugs and tobacco and the disinformation that government usually uses to manipulate behavior.

Since the article did not include the subject matter used to reach the reported results, I cannot produce the examples you want. The results imply a manipulative message, but absent the actual messages, there is only the implication.

Jul 08, 2011
the only ironic effect of any anti-prejudice message or campaign is that it draws more attention to the "some of us are different" idea ... so far every movement that inforces this type of "anti-prejudice" mentality has actually made things worse, kinda like reverse-racism. i come from a country where the idea of racism or xenophobia does not exist simply because WE DO NOT CARE about those differences we do not care about the slavery or the holocaust more than it is necessary. but... some actually love the "victim" part and things won't change. sorry about that

Jul 10, 2011
"WE DO NOT CARE about those differences we do not care about the slavery or the holocaust more than it is necessary"

How much caring do you think is necessary? I'm so shaken by the callousness of that remark I don't know where to begin. If you're not absolutely reviled and sickened by either slavery or the holocaust, then you're likely going to accept any new atrocity or genocide without more of a reaction than "is necessary."

Jul 10, 2011
@telekinetic... hmmm... ok... let's say you are right... then i want retribution from turkey who attacked and killed so manny of my people... i want retribution from the russians who raped and pillaged while they were in our country and so on... those 2 things, the slavery and the holocaust are just pieces of a violent PAST... who gives you the right to say that those 2 things are more important than a miriad of other atrocities that happend on this earth???

Jul 10, 2011
Dozens of my FAMILY were murdered by the Nazis, so it's not an abstract event that I can speak of casually. You will never get retribution, but what you can be sure of is that as long as your focus is that no group of victims can claim exclusive rights to the past, then you've missed the point. You should experience revulsion and horror, because Romani, clergy, anti-fascists, homosexuals, artists, intellectuals, died in the gas chambers along with my family. Their suffering and loss is mine as well, and I see them all as my brethren. If you truly think that to remain silent about the past is to be fair, then you will be one of the many who stood by and said nothing when it happens again, and it will happen again, as it's happened in Darfur, in Rwanda, in the Congo, in Bosnia...

Jul 11, 2011
Suggesting to someone they not think about something amplifies that thing in their mind. We (our species) suck at that. Ask me not to smoke and I will be consumed by the idea of smoking. Ok, so this example is based on an addiction but it could easily transfer to entrenched beliefs. Ask a religious zealot to not concern themselves with other religions and that person will not sleep that night, consumed by exactly what you did not intend.

You want to distract a zealot? Show them a puppy or something, talk about how great their penis is, anything but what you want them not to do.

All this talk about smoking though...

Jul 11, 2011
"Do or do not. There is no try." Yoda

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