Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Probability of Intervention: Gender X "Isms" Effects

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Probability of Intervention: Gender X "Isms" Effects

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to assess the probability that European American men and women would intervene when they observed prejudicial expressions and/or discriminatory acts based on race, sex, sexual orientation and/or religion. The participants were also asked how they felt after intervening (or failing to intervene). Significantly more women than men intervened when the prejudice was based on sexism, heterosexism and religious intolerance. More men than women intervened when the insult was based on race. Men's and women's rationale for intervention (and failing to intervene) differed.

Over 100 years ago the eminent scholar, W.E.B. DuBois (1903), stated that the problem of the 20th century would be the problem of the color line. Unfortunately, he could have included the 21st century in his concern for the future. Richman (1998) has assumed that racism ". . . is seldom noticed, and when it is noticed, it is often ignored or sometimes even applauded" (p. 411). As Dood (1999) suggests, racism permeates our society. Regardless of the type of prejudice, if individuals continue to ignore - or applaud - racist, sexist, heterosexist, religious intolerant, and so on, insults they witness, the "isms" will continue to be a major problem during the 21st century.

It is an atypical adult who has never witnessed an act of discrimination or an expression of a prejudicial attitude. Within the United States violent acts based on race, sex, sexual orientation and religious preference increased more than 50% from 2000 through to 2002 (FBI report on violent hate crimes, 2002). Unfortunately, parents instill prejudicial attitudes and teach discriminatory behaviors throughout some children's developmental years (Aboud & Doyle, 1996; DePaulo & Coleman, 1986); these attitudes, however, may become intensified or reduced by peers as they move toward adulthood. Thus, it is possible that as adolescents or adults, peers can be an effective force in reducing prejudice through the use of appropriate intervening strategies.

The present research was designed to assess whether college participants tended to intervene in situations in which their peers or others initiated prejudicial expressions or participated in discriminatory acts that were based on race, sex, sexual orientation and/or religion. These participants were selfidentified heterosexual, Christian, European Americans. The practical reasons for assessing the attitudes of these students were that they not only represented the vast majority of available participants for testing at Wake Forest University, but they also represented the majority population in the United States. To ascertain the probability of intervention we asked the participants, if they had intervened, what was the nature of their intervention, and how they felt following intervention. It was also important to assess how the participants felt when they failed to intervene and to ask them how they would respond in similar situations in the future.



One hundred and eighty students were tested. Statistical analyses were conducted on 164, 18-23-year-old college male (n=77) and female («=87) students who stated that they were heterosexual, Christian, European Americans (94% of the sample initially tested). The participants were enrolled in Introductory Psychology courses.

The participants initially completed a demographic questionnaire that included their gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and so on. This was followed by a set of questions requesting information pertaining to the participants' personal encounters with displays of prejudicial attitudes and/or discriminatory behaviors. Questions included:

1. Have you ever observed another person who, verbally or physically, expressed a prejudice toward a group of people or who acted in a discriminatory manner toward them?

2. Please describe the circumstances in which this prejudice took place and the type of prejudice that was expressed. …

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