Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

Empathy May Curb Bias: Two Studies of the Effects of News Stories on Implicit Attitudes toward African Americans and Native Americans

Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

Empathy May Curb Bias: Two Studies of the Effects of News Stories on Implicit Attitudes toward African Americans and Native Americans

Article excerpt


People across the world think and feel more negatively about outgroup members (Allport, 1954; Baron & Banaji, 2006; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwarz, 1998). In American children, evidence of such implicit negativity has been found as early as age 6 (Baron & Banaji, 2006), likely reflecting leakage of nonverbal bias cues from adults (Skinner, Meltzoff, & Olson, 2016). Implicit dislike of outgroup members is often constructed from little or no factual evidence. For example, study participants watching two unfamiliar sports teams engage in arbitrary implicit partisanship on the basis perceived similarity (Greenwald, Pickrell, & Farnham, 2002).

Negative implicit attitudes against racial and ethnic minorities are especially common but not always expressed explicitly. However, much research shows that they continue to exist (e.g., Dovidio, Evans, & Tyler, 1986; Hofmann et al., 2005). Implicit racial negativity permeates social life, and raises countless questions about basic equality and fairness. For example, oncologists display implicit negativity against African American patients, resulting in lower patient confidence in recommended treatments (Penner et al., 2016); resident physicians have implicit racial bias against African American children at the same levels as their bias against African American adults (Johnson et al., 2017); and teachers hold implicit biases against African American students, affecting their test performance (Jacoby-Senghor, Sinclair, & Shelton, 2016).

The goal of this study is to explore whether news stories that contradict negative stereotypes about racial and ethnic minorities can abate implicit negative bias among audience members. Factual information, such as news stories, generally relies on a cognitive/ deliberative route, though the effects are complicated because certain narratives can also elicit a variety of emotions in audience members. Before further explaining the aims and merit of this research, the following sub-sections will lay a foundation for the study by outlining some of the major questions in the literature on implicit attitudes toward outgroup members. These include defining implicit attitudes and their relations to cognitive components; the possibility and likelihood of success in suppressing implicit bias; the connection between bias and nonverbal behaviors; and the potential role of mediated messages in abating implicit negativity.

Understanding Implicit Attitudes

Implicit attitudes are measured most often through response latency tasks because people's performance on them is typically outside of their conscious control. For example, in automatic assignments of fame and notoriety, Richeson and Trawalter (2005) found that disliked Black exemplars (e.g., O.J. Simpson) are categorized as Blacks more quickly than disliked White exemplars (e.g., Timothy McVeigh) were categorized as Whites; by contrast, admired Black exemplars (e.g., Martin Luther King) were not racially categorized any faster than admired White exemplars (e.g., John F. Kennedy). Other literature suggests that people also often experience unconscious racist or sexist thoughts (Banaji & Greenwald, 1994; Dovidio, Brigham, Johnson, & Gaertner, 1996). These are due to spontaneous accessing of stereotypes - cognitive shortcuts (Macrae, Milne, & Bodenhausen, 1994) that reflect sets of beliefs associated with a group (Dovidio, Evans, & Tyler, 1986).

Unlike explicit attitudes, which have both cognitive and affective components, implicit attitudes are considered exclusively related to affect (Smith & Nosek, 2007). This is supported by findings that participants scoring higher on indirect measures of implicit racial prejudice show more activation of the amygdala, a part of the brain used in reaction to perceived threats (Phelps et al., 2000).

Though implicit attitudes differ from cognitive processes, such as "spontaneous" or "implicit" stereotyping (Wigboldus et al. …

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