Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

The top 10 strategies for reducing prejudice (part 3 of 3)

By Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton

This post concludes our countdown of the top 10 strategies for reducing prejudice and improving intergroup relations.

Strategies 10-8 were organized around the theme of getting you in the right mindset for introspection and metacognition, which are the foundation for recognizing our capacity for both prejudice and egalitarianism.

Strategies 7-5 were organized around movie themes, to help you better remember them.

... and now, without further ado, here are strategies 4 through 1:

4. Keep that resolution to stay healthy

It's the new year, and many of us are likely to make New Year's Resolutions to lose weight, work out, and get healthy. Here is a bit of extra motivation: while you may adopt such a resolution to increase your own well-being, chances are that outgroup members may indirectly benefit from your regimen as well.

How? Research by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski shows that when we experience mortality salience-- that is, when our own imminent demise is front and center in our consciousness-- the things that transcend us, like our country, our values, and our customs, become all the more important to us. It's like we want to become symbolically immortal by cherishing our cultural traditions even more. This is nice, except that one unintended consequence is that those who do not share these particular values are more likely to be the targets of our prejudice. In other words, those who challenge our cultural worldview become a threat to our continued immortality, and we grow intolerant of them.

Although many things that are out of our control can certainly bring our own mortality to the front of our mind, you can at least do something about the one thing related to your longevity: your health. If you lose those extra pounds, can jog that extra mile, or can lower your cholesterol or blood pressure, you'll at least feel comfortable knowing you are doing what you can to increase your time on this Earth. And when you do that, you'll likely be more tolerant of other worldviews--- and more able to enjoy that trip around the world I suggested in strategy #10.

3. Soup or salad? Salad, by a long shot.

You may remember En Vogue's hit "Free Your Mind"...

Did you catch those lyrics?

"Free Your Mind

And the Rest Will Follow

Be Colorblind

Don't Be So Shallow"

A great, catchy song with its heart in the right place, for sure-- but its recipe for tolerance is wrong. An example illustrates why. If I tell you, "no matter what you do, do NOT think about a Pink Elephant," you are actually MORE likely to think about that elephant. This is because you need to activate a constant monitoring process that asks "am I thinking about that Pink Elephant?," which ironically, increases the activation of the term "Pink Elephant" in your mind. The same is true for colorblindeness- if you say to yourself, "I'm not going to notice race!" you are actually more likely to become preoccupied with whether you are thinking about race, which will then make race a more salient category that you spend even more time tryiing to ignore. And, as strategy #7 reminds us, you can spend so much energy worrying about not appearing like you are noticing race that you end up doing worse in your social interactions. Further, research has shown that colorblindness can actually increase prejudice, precisely because the salience of race makes it more likely to be used unconcsciously.

The solution? Acknowledge differences, rather than try to fight an uphill battle to ignore them. This strategy is known as multiculturalism, and differs from colorblindness in that it embraces diversity and difference. In the battle of the "melting pot" versus the "salad bowl" ideologies, the research is clear: the salad by a long shot.

2. Remember that people are really bad mind-readers.

This bit of advice may sound silly, but it's remarkable how much we behave in our daily interactions as if members of other groups have direct access to our thoughts and feelings. Research by Jacquie Vorauer has shown that when people experience anxiety during intergroup interactions, they also expect their cross-race interactants to know how they feel. Thus we expect our cross-race interactants to know why we are acting awkwardly, and we tend to overestimate the amount of positivity we are conveying during interracial interactions.

Unsurprisingly, though, people in fact can't read minds, and instead interpret nervousness as dislike or discomfort due to prejudice. This can easily turn into a vicious cycle, because we then feel further rejected when our partner does not reciprocate the positivity we think we are showing (but are, in fact, not showing)!

In related research, Nicole Shelton and Jennifer Richeson have shown that while both Whites and Blacks are in actuality interested in interracial interaction, both groups believe that the other group is NOT interested in interracial interaction—and neither initiates interaction based on this false belief. When asked about what led to the lack of intergroup contact, each group correctly said that they themselves avoided contact because of their fears of rejection, but misattributed the other group’s avoidance to lack of interest.

So let's remember that we are not like Professor X in X-men. You're better off a) assuming people from other groups are interested and willing to reach across group boundaries, and b) not assuming other people can correctly intuit the reasons for your anxiety and nervousness. Even better: work on that anxiety and nervousness through startegy #1!

1. Make a cross-race friend

Recently, I wrote: "if you looked and looked at all of the solutions proposed by scientists over the years to combat prejudice and racism, you'd be hard pressed to find a more effective antidote than intergroup friendship." You can read more about it here.

A Happy New Year to all. Peace on Earth.

Cross-posted from Psychology Today.