Cultural diversity is a foundational feature of the United States and most other nations. It can, at times, be understood as a source of strength while, at other times, reveal if not lead to societal injustice, inequality, or, simply, psychological discomfort. The members of the SPCL study the social psychology of cultural diversity. Specifically, we examine processes of mind that influence the ways in which people experience diversity. Ultimately, we aim to unearth some of the psychological barriers to engaging in culturally diverse environments, in order to discover promising interventions that will enable us to foster and maintain social environments, cultures, and contexts that are both diverse and just. Brief summaries of our current research projects are provided below.
Threat of Increasing Diversity
In light of the relatively recent articles, news reports, and press releases detailing the march towards a “majority-minority” nation, we began an exploration of White Americans’ reactions to this information. This research consistently finds that whites find this anticipated demographic change as threatening to their current status as the dominant racial group in the US (Craig & Richeson, 2014a, 2014b). For example, the perceived status threat that is triggered by considering a “majority-minority” future, leads Whites to express more negative attitudes toward racial minorities in both an explicit self-report measures and reaction time measures (Craig & Richeson, 2014b; Outten et al. 2012). Status threat also leads to greater identification with conservative ideology and conservative policy positions (Craig & Richeson, 2014b; Willer et al., 2016). The cultural threat that is triggered by the increasing racial/ethnic diversity information results in greater support for cultural assimilation and greater concern about anti-White discrimination (Danbold & Huo, 2015; Craig & Richeson, 2017, 2018). Parallel work is examining how different racial minorities respond to this and similar information, especially groups that are not growing in number (Blacks) compared with those that are (Latinos & Asians; Craig & Richeson, 2017). Our ongoing work in this area is examining ways to attenuate these threats and their implications for political behavior, perceptions of citizenship, and feelings of national belonging (see Craig, Rucker, & Richeson, 2018a, 2018b).
Another important line of research in the SPCL explores relations among members of different socially-stigmatized groups. The question governing this project is whether the experiences that often distinguish low-status from high-status group members may alter the trajectory of such intra-minority intergroup relations so that they unfold differently than relations between members of dominant and minority groups. Specifically, the Common Ingroup Identity Model of intergroup relations (CIIM; Gaerter & Dovidio 2000) suggests that perceived discrimination may lead members of different stigmatized groups to categorize themselves in terms of a common “disadvantaged” identity and, in turn, produce positive attitudes toward other stigmatized groups. Consistent with the CIIM, we found that exposing racial minority participants (e.g. Asians-Americans) to anti-Asian prejudice leads to the expression of greater perceived similarity with, and more positive evaluations of, Blacks & Latinos (Craig & Richeson, 2012). In other words, making ingroup discrimination salient can promote stigma-based solidarity.
However, extant social psychology research (i.e. Social Identity Theory; Tajfel & Turner, 1979) suggests that making ingroup discrimination salient can lead members of one stigmatized group to evaluate other stigmatized groups more negatively. Consistent with this idea, we have gound that making sexism salient for White women or making racism salient for racial minorietes leads to more negative evaluations of racial and sexual minorities, respectively (Craig et al., 2012; Craig & Richeson, 2014). Taken together, this work suggests that salient discrimination leads to more positive relations among groups within a dimension of identity (e.g. among racial minorities) but, more negative relations among groups that cross dimensions of identity (e.g. racial and sexual minorities). Our most recent research suggests, however, that this cross-identity dimensional divide can be bridged by drawing similarities between the types of discrimination the groups have faced (Cortland et al., 2017). Our ongoing work seeks to examine the implications of this work for the creation and maintenance of multiracial political coalitions as well as investigations of other avenues to promote stigma-based solidarity and reduce cross-group derogation in the face of salient ingroup discrimination (Craig & Richeson, 2016).
Regulating Emotions in the Face of Discrimination
Discrimination, whether experience personally or witnessed, is a stressor that can harm mental and physical health. Research on managing stressors finds that reflecting on the event from a third-person, distanced point of view rather than from a personal, immersed point of view can reduce its negative effects (Ayduk & Kross, 2010). Building on this intriguing line of research, we have begun a new project, funded by the National Science Foundation, to examine whether the benefits of distanced reflection on engagement with negative life events extends to group-based discrimination. We consider the influence of distanced compared with immersed forms of emotion regulation on the emotional reactions, physiological arousal, cognitive functioning, and collective-action intentions of members of different low-status groups as they relive and/or witnessed discrimination against their group. Initial work suggests that distanced engagement with discrimination can reduce negative affective experience, but that this reduction seems to reduce willingness to engage in collective-action as well as being more effortful than immersed forms of engagement (Green et al., under review; Green & Richeson, under review).
Perceptions of & Reactions to Intergroup Inequality
What factors shape whether people perceive and/or acknowledge different types of inequality? Recent studies in the lab find that both White and Black Americans largely misperceive the extent to which racial economic inequality has been attained in the United States (Kraus, Rucker, & Richeson, 2017). Indeed, White and Black Americans from the top and bottom of the national income distribution, on average, estimated greater progress toward Black-White economic equality that was largely driven by estimates of greater current equality than actually exists according to National statistics. These overestimates were predicted by greater belief in a just world and social network racial diversity (among Black participants), as well as differences in subgroup societal status. These findings suggest a profound misperception of and unfounded optimism regarding societal race-based economic equality—a misperception that is likely to have any number of important policy implications (see also Kraus et al., 2019).
This misperception regarding economic inequality seems to generalize to racial inequality more generally. One factor that seems to predict more accurate perceptions of the actual racial disparities that continue to exist in American society is the endorsement of lay beliefs about the nature of racism. Specifically, we are investigating how lay beliefs about the nature of racism— as primarily due to prejudiced individuals or, rather, to institutional/structural factors that disadvantage members of particular racial groups—shape perceptions of racial inequality in the criminal justice system; holding a more structural, rather than interpersonal, understanding of racism is associated with a greater tendency to perceive racial inequality in criminal justice. Indeed, accounting for these lay beliefs helps to significantly reduce the “gap” in perceived racial inequality typically found between White and racial minority individuals (Rucker, Duker, & Richeson, under revision).
Reasoning about inequality
Once perceived, how do people respond to information about inequality? Our emerging work suggests that lay beliefs are relevant to this question as well. Specifically, several studies find that Whites’ responses to information about the racial disparities in the prison population are shaped, at least in part by, lay beliefs regarding racism. Individuals with a more structural, rather than interpersonal, understanding of racism are more likely to respond to information about the disproportionate number of Black individuals in the prison population with increased support for policies that would reduce these disparities in mass incarceration, especially those that are dispositionally concerned about societal hierarchy (see again Rucker, Duker, & Richeson, under revision). Our ongoing research will examine these processes in other domains of racial inequality as well as in other social disparities.
Another project in this broader area of inquiry concerns responses to rising economic inequality in American society. In recent research with CUNY graduate center sociologist, Leslie McCall, we explore and test the opportunity model of beliefs about economic inequality. Specifically, in a forthcoming paper (McCall, Burk, Laperrière, & Richeson, 2017) we expose American adults to information about rising economic inequality in the US (or control information) and then ask about their beliefs regarding the roles of structural (e.g., being born wealthy) and individual (e.g., hard work) factors in getting ahead in society (i.e., opportunity beliefs), followed by their support for business and government actors to enact policies that will reduce economic inequality. Rather than revealing insensitivity to rising inequality, these results suggest that rising economic inequality in contemporary society can spark skepticism about the existence of economic opportunity in society that, in turn, may motivate support for policies designed to redress economic inequality.
Dynamics of Interracial Interactions
One longstanding line of research in the SPCL’s considers the dynamics of interracial contact given the importance of interracial contract for prejudice reduction. Our early work revealed the troubling finding that interracial interactions often impair performance on cognitive tasks, particularly ones that require response inhibition or other forms of self control (Richeson & Shelton, 2003; Richeson, Trawalter, & Shelton, 2005). To examine the mechanisms underlying this effect, we conducted a series of studies using both behavioral and neuroimaging methodologies. This work offered compelling evidence that interracial contact impairs inhibitory task performance because individuals engage in self-control during the interaction, largely in order to manage concerns about appearing prejudiced (whites) or being the target of prejudice (racial minorities). These acts of self-control leave individuals temporarily unable or unwilling to engage is subsequent tasks that also require self-control.
These studies suggest that self-regulatory efforts to avoid the expression of prejudice may unwittingly leave individuals less capable of successfully completing a multitude of important cognitive tasks. So, does this mean that individuals should not attempt to regulate the expression of prejudice during interracial interactions? Contrary to this idea, our research finds that self-control efforts, while cognitively costly, can be effective in creating positive interracial interactions (Shelton, Richeson, Salvatore, & Trawalter, 2005). We are currently exploring whether different mindsets can foster positive interactions without the accompanying cognitive costs.