Previous research indicates that in many cases discrimination may depend on a particularly positive image we have of people with whom we identify, rather than on our direct dislike of other groups. A new thesis studies how we try to avoid favouring our own kind.
In three experiments, Øyvind Jørgensen, Martin Bäckström and Fredrik Björklund showed that volunteers corrected how positively they viewed their own group, depending on whom they were reporting their answers to. Female volunteers who were met with a male researcher gave a less positive description of women than those who were met with a female researcher. Similarly, Swedish people were assessed less positively if the researcher was of Middle Eastern origin than if the researcher was an ethnic Swede. It was clear that volunteers were correcting their assessments depending on whom they were talking to.
In another series of experiments, the volunteers were given the task of assessing men and women of Middle Eastern, African or European origin. Before they made their assessments, the volunteers were reminded not to allow themselves to be influenced by stereotypes when doing so. The results showed interesting patterns:
Volunteers who were reminded tended to correct their assessments of ethnic minorities and white women upwards. The estimations of white men tended on the other hand to be less positive when the volunteers had been reminded not to be influenced by stereotypes. In a follow-up study, researchers found that it was considered more serious to overestimate white men in relation to the other groups studied.
“A possible interpretation is that we think it is more serious when white men are overestimated or positively discriminated; they are after all at an advantage in society.”
Previous research indicates that discrimination often does not depend on the fact that we think badly of those who are different. Instead, it is determined by the fact that we really like people who resemble us. So we give extra advantages to our friends and to those who are similar to us.
Øyvind Jørgensen has now shown that we try to correct the image of our own group in order to avoid practising - or appearing to practise - favouritism.
“It may sound trivial but it is significant for how we understand and discuss prejudice and discrimination”, says Øyvind Jørgensen.
Øyvind Jørgensen earned his PhD by publicly defending his thesis on In-group bias control.
He can be reached at oyvind.jorgensen [a] psychology.lu (p) se or by telephone +46-739904842