Constant, vague, just-below-the-surface discrimination

October 18, 2007

An Observer piece by Wray Herbert summarizes a recent article in Psychological Science:

Black volunteers who had witnessed unfair but ambiguous hiring decisions performed more poorly on the Stroop test, suggesting that they were using all their mental resources to make sense of the unfairness.

[Blacks]…have developed coping strategies for the most hateful kinds of racism; it’s the constant, vague, just-below-the-surface acts of racism that impair performance, day in and day out.

Salvatore and Shelton 2007 Psychological Science, 2007 Sep;18(9):810-5.


Figure 1 shows Stroop interference as a function of the “prejudice condition” which was manipulated by statements of a purported Human Resources  manager regarding hiring of candidates.

In the ambiguous-prejudice condition, the officer’s comments were neutral with regard to race (e.g., ‘‘good GPA but not business or econ’’), so the reasons for his hiring recommendations were unclear. In the blatant-prejudice condition, his comments explicitly invoked race as a factor in the decision (e.g., …that the Black candidate had been a member of ‘too many minority organizations,’’ and the White candidate was a ‘‘typical white prep-school kid’’), making it clear that the decision
was motivated by bias.

There was also an interaction with the race of the purported “HR manager” such that:

We also observed an interaction between subject’s race and evaluator’s race… indicating that the Stroop results were also determined by the match between subject’s race and the race of the evaluator (and job candidate). Cognitive depletion was attenuated when the evaluative context featured a match between the subject’s race and the human-resources officer’s race (i.e., both Black or both White), and the job candidate was a racial out-group member … Cognitive depletion was exacerbated when the evaluative context instead featured a match between the subject’s race and the job candidate’s race, such that the human-resources officer making the hiring recommendations was a member of the racial out-group…

This is all somewhat relevant to a prior post on Jim Watson’s little dustup.

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