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

Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, professor of psychology | December 30, 2010

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.

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

  1. Hello, Thanks, great information.

    I am a grantwriter and am wondering if you have come across any evaluations/scale/assessments, other than the IAT that can gauge prejudice (changes in). This would be used as a pretest and post-test for a youth program promoting cross cultural communication and reduction of prejudice in their participants.

    I thank you in advance for your time.

  2. I fully agree with the sentiment of this post and the responses. I am 33 and grew up in the southern US, specifically Alabama. Now, as an educated adult, I live in Phoenix. The conclusions that I have drawn about the prejudices against African Americans and now against Latino Americans are uncanny. This non-sense that has occurred here in Phoenix is nothing more than what continues to occur to this day in places like Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. We cannot afford to keep the doors open on our schools in Arizona thus cramming 45 little minds into one classroom but we can afford to use fear combined with SB-1070 to turn law enforcement into immigration police unit. When fear wins, we all lose. But I am glad to be one of the only Phoenix wedding photographer s in Arizona that readily photographs the weddings of couples who are of different origins. I also make no bones about using those images in trade shows and events. Eventually we need to get it as Americans, that this is a diverse country constantly changing and then move on with our lives for the better.

    • Very good comments also Jason, thank you.

      Rodolfo’s post goes to the heart and soul of what we are as a civilization, and demands a most thorough examination to determine if human beings shall ever be able to avoid calamity.

      A totally unacceptable truth is that there are simply not nearly enough politicians and intellectuals fighting like hell for current and future generations to make the right things happen with the required sense of urgency.

      Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon keeps telling us over and over that too many windows of opportunity are closing, in Cyprus, Global Warming, etc. and he ought to know as well as anyone.

      Thus another most “Inconvenient Truth” is that the UN, Washington and political capitals around the world have failed current and future generations completely because our political and intellect leaders only care about their own personal self-interests, allowing all of our social, political, economic, educational, religious and environmental systems to fail to protect humanity today.

      However, in America since we are still supposed to have a Democracy, the enemy really is “Us” because “We The People” keep proving that we simply have no compassion for future generations either since we keep enabling all of our politicians and intellectuals to continue to fail America and Humanity.

      One more time: Why Do We Never Learn?

  3. The holiday season is a perfect time to examine our lives. When the harsh realities of our everyday choices confront us, we have a golden opportunity to modify our behavior and align our values. Author C. David Coates wrote an eye opening poem which, like a mirror, exposes us to truths we may not wish to see. Here is a slightly modified version of that poem.

    “Aren’t humans amazing? They kill wildlife – birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed.

    Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative – and fatal – health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer.

    So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases.

    Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals.

    Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and once a year send out cards praying for ‘Peace on Earth.'”

    The good news is that anyone can break this cycle of violence. Each of us has the power to choose compassion.

    • Interesting point JC “The good news is that anyone can break this cycle of violence.” The tragic reality is that the UN has failed to even come close to making this happen since it was founded in 1945, even though we have never had a better era of opportunities to make it happen.

      To that end I have been trying for over a year to break into Berkeley’s Ivory Tower, via this blog to promote discussion between scholars and the general public, but I have totally failed to create any sense of urgency among Berkeley scholars to take actions to keep social, political, economic and environmental tipping points from toppling any further than they have already.

      So, as the latest conclusions by evolutionary biologists indicate, our “cycle of violence” may very well end the hard way with extinction because of our brain is limited to short-term thinking and our politicians and intellectuals really don’t care enough to take actions to avoid long-term catastrophe:

      Beyond that, there was a Berkeley NEWS RELEASE on 6/14/99 about a conclusion by Professor Katharine Milton “Meat-eating was essential for human evolution, says UC Berkeley anthropologist specializing in diet” that you might find interesting:

      Happy New Year anyway.

  4. Rodolfo, Why Do We Never Learn?

    Thank you for your dedication to saving humanity from our most destructive cultural values.

    Personally, I am proud that I graduated from Berkeley in the 60s, participating in an era when we made more advances in actually practicing the Golden Rule “Do unto others as as you would have them do unto you” than ever before, achieving the greatest advances in civil rights in history.

    Tragically, the human race continues to prove that destructive cultural values such as prejudice and racism still dominate the majority of societies around the world, as proven by never-ending wars and social atrocities we are still experiencing with no end in sight.

    I am forever thankful that I was born, raised and raised my own multiracial family in California, the best place in America and the world to do so. But I have grave fears about the future for my descendants.

    I wish you the best success in your efforts. Cal must take a leadership role in protecting humanity from ourselves with the greatest sense of urgency in history because our failures are closing the window of opportunity faster than ever before.

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