Surveys – Standardizing How We Ask People About Prejudice

Individual survey questions may introduce noise – there’s rarely a perfect question that will be interpreted the same way by all people. Individuals may also tend to fill out any given question in certain ways, liking more moderate or more extreme responses, for example. Both of these factors introduce noise.

However, with enough questions and enough people providing data, you can deal with the first issue by identifying clusters of questions that tap into the same general idea. You can deal with the second issue by administering the survey to many different people and looking at correlations with other surveys and behavioral measures.

We can also use this process to identify differences between groups – if questions cluster for some groups but not for others – we have to think carefully about why this might be the case, why the same survey questions might tap into different ideas for different groups of people.

We can then compare the survey response to what we learned from our participant observation. Do differences in the language that people use to talk about race show up as actual differences in survey response? Do similarities show up as actual similarities?

There are numerous surveys available to tap into prejudice, stereotyping, and interpersonal motivation. Commonly used scales include the Modern Racism Scale (McConahey, 1986), the Pro and Anti-Black Attitudes Questionnaire (Katz & Haas, 1988), Dunton and Fazio (1995)’s Motivation to Control Prejudice Reactions scale, and Plant and Devine (1998)’s Internal and External Motivations to Respond Without Prejudice. These surveys have been extensively studied – predicting a variety of behavioral traits including reactions to African American authors and speakers and in person interracial interactions.

These surveys, in general, focus on negative attitudes towards African Americans as a group (with the exception of the Pro and Anti-Black Attitudes Questionnaire, which considers positive and negative attitudes).

The Motivation to Control Prejudiced Reactions scale assumes that people have stereotype-driven reactions and seek to control them. The Internal and External Motivations to Respond Without Prejudice scale assumes that these attempts at acting non-prejudiced can be driven by internal (personal) and external (social) reasons.

Internally-driven people, for example, are more likely to act from an egalitarian framework (Johns, Cullum, Smith, & Freng, 2008). This egalitarian framework treats individuals as individuals. Membership in a social category is acknowledged as a potential influence on what an individual becomes. However, for an egalitarian, the individual is best understood as a unique entity, the product of many, interacting, factors.

Other researchers contrast multicultural ideologies – ideologies that acknowledge that belonging to different social categories shapes your experience – with colorblind ideologies – perspectives that judge every individual by the same standard, regardless of what factors lead them to be who they are.

Planning Our Intervention:
As planned, our intervention will focus on those individual who attribute traits to all members of a group based on observations of representations of the group in the media. We want to see if we can get that person to shift their perspective. Perhaps quixotically, we want that individual to attribute traits to most members of the group based on empirically established means and standard deviations.

To do so – we would want to know the specific content of their prejudice, whether they feel any personal or social pressures to avoid being prejudiced, and whether colorblind or multicultural ideologies appeal to them. Each of these factors could influence how they interact with our intervention.

For example, someone who is purely externally (but not internally) motivated to respond without prejudice tends to self-report a greater number of and more extreme negative attitudes towards African Americans. She tends to demonstrate higher levels of implicit – automatic or unobtrusively measured – prejudice (Devine, Plant, Amodio, Harmon-Jones, & Vance, 2002; Hausmann & Ryan, 2004; Amodio, Devine, & Eddie Harmon-Jones, 2008; Plant & Devine, 2009; Schlauch, Lang, Plant, Christensen, & Donohue, 2009). When talking with someone who happens to be African American, she engages in fewer approach-oriented behaviors (she smiles less, asks fewer questions, and makes less eye contact). Further, she is consciously aware of her concern to avoid appearing prejudice and anticipates being less engaged, even before the interaction (Plant, Devine, & Peruche, 2010). They may also be less likely to pay attention to even a racially-irrelevant message when it is attribute to an African American source (Sude & Rios, 2011, unpublished).

From this portrait, we can infer that it would be difficult to change how this socially (but not personally) motivated respond without prejudice person thinks about race. In order to do so, we would want to increase her personal motivation to change her mind. We would also want to refrain from making her anxious, refrain from signaling that she should take an avoidant, disengaged approach to our intervention.

We could appeal to values that are race-irrelevant, such as intelligence of sound-reasoning. We could then shape her critical thinking and her recognition of lower quality thinking in a way that is race-irrelevant. We could then embed information about race within a wider discussion of using statistics to make more nuanced interpretations of the social world.

If she doesn’t value intelligence or sound-reasoning, we could instead offer an intervention that directly targets her intergroup anxiety – one that will alleviate anxiety and provide effective strategies for smooth and at the same time authentic interracial interaction.


One thought on “Surveys – Standardizing How We Ask People About Prejudice

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s