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Discrimination towards members of low-status groups takes a variety of forms, and results in a variety of negative consequences for its victims. Furthermore, discrimination may influence its targets either directly (for instance, when housing discrimination makes insurance, mortgage rates, or rents higher for African Americans than for whites) or indirectly, that is via perceptions on the part of the stigmatised. In the latter case the outcomes are caused or amplified by perceptions on the part of the victim that he or she is the target of discrimination. This chapter focuses on current research concerning factors that influence the perception of discrimination and its indirect influence on individuals. We review work from our own lab as well as from the field more broadly, focusing on research that attempts to explain contextual and individual variability in how events that are potentially due to discrimination are initially perceived, subsequently interpreted, and then publicly reported or withheld.
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Ask, Answer, and Announce:
Three stages in perceiving and
responding to discrimination
Charles Stangor
, Janet K. Swim
, Gretchen B.
, Jamie DeCoster
, Katherine L. Van Allen
& Alison Ottenbreit
University of Maryland , USA
The Pennsylvania State University , USA
University at Buffalo, The State University of New
York , USA
The Free University of Amsterdam , The Netherlands
Published online: 04 Mar 2011.
To cite this article: Charles Stangor , Janet K. Swim , Gretchen B. Sechrist , Jamie
DeCoster , Katherine L. Van Allen & Alison Ottenbreit (2003) Ask, Answer, and
Announce: Three stages in perceiving and responding to discrimination, European
Review of Social Psychology, 14:1, 277-311
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Ask, Answer, and Announce: Three stages in
perceiving and responding to discrimination
Charles Stangor
University of Maryland, College Park, USA
Janet K. Swim
The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, USA
Gretchen B. Sechrist
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, USA
Jamie DeCoster
The Free University of Amsterd am, The Netherlands
Katherine L. Van Allen and
Alison Ottenbreit
University of Maryland, College Park, USA
Discrimination towards members of low-status groups takes a variety of
forms, and results in a variety of negative consequences for its victims.
Furthermore, discrimination may influence its targets either directly (for
instance, when housing discrimination makes insurance, mortgage rates, or
rents higher for African Americans than for whites) or indirectly, that is via
perceptions on the part of the stigmatised. In the latter case the outcomes are
caused or amplified by perceptions on the part of the victim that he or she is
the target of discrimination. This chapter focuses on current research
concerning factors that influence the perception of discrimination and its
indirect influence on individuals. We review work from our own lab as well as
from the field more broadly, focusing on research that attempts to explain
contextual and individual variability in how events that are potentially due to
discrimination are initially perceived, subsequently interpreted, and then
publicly reported or withheld.
2003 Psychology Press Ltd DOI: 10.1080/10463280340000090
Address correspondence to: Charles Stangor, Department of Psychology, University of
Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA.
Preparation of this chapter was supported in part by National Science Foundation grant
990722 to Charles Stangor and Janet K. Swim.
2003, 14, 277–311
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Over the past decades social psychologists have published a substantial
amount of research concerning the development, maintenance, and change
of stereotypes and prejudice (e.g., Brewer & Brown, 1998; Fiske, 1998). This
work is important from a theoretical perspective, because it provides insight
into the basic processes of person perception. But the research is also
assumed to have practical implications. Social scientists find it important to
study stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination because we assume these
beliefs have negative influences on their targets—the stereotyped and the
Discrimination directed at members of low-status groups is expected to
take a variety of forms, and to have a variety of harmful effects. At one end
of the continuum are overt hostility, violence, and genocide. At the other
end are the everyday hassles that, although minor, accumulate over time
(Contrada et al., 2000; Kessler, Mickelson , & Williams, 1999; Swim, Hyers,
Cohen, Ferguson, & Bylsm a, 2003b; Swim, Pearson, & Johnston, 2003d).
Even these everyday, ‘‘minor’’ forms of discrimination can be problematic
because they may produce anger and anxiety among stigmatised group
members. Moreover, over the long term, these hassles, like other daily
hassles, can lead to other psychological problems (e.g., Landrine & Klonoff,
1996; Landrine, Klonoff, Gibbs, Manning, & Lund, 1995).
Discrimination may influence its targets either directly (for instance, when
housing discrimination makes insurance, mortgage rates, or rents higher for
African Americans than for Whites) or indirectly, that is via perceptions on
the part of the stigmatised (Stangor & Sechrist, 1998). The direct effects of
prejudice an d discrimination are commonly observed in employment,
income, housing, education, and medical care (Braddock & McPartland,
1987; Cash, Gillen, & Burns, 1977; Neckerman & Kirshenman, 1991;
Treiman & Hartmann, 1981; Yinger, 1994). For instance, Blacks are less
likely to receive major therapeutic procedures for many conditions and often
do not receive necessary treatments, have delayed diagnoses, or fail to
manage chronic diseases. In one recent study, Bach, Cramer, Warren, and
Begg (1999) found that Blacks die from one form of lung cancer more often
than Whites, possibly as the result of their lower rate of surgical treatment,
and similar problems have been identified for other minorities (Williams &
Rucker, 2000).
Discrimination has been blamed for the large percentage of Blacks living
in poverty, and their lack of access to high-paying jobs (Commonwealth
Fund, 2001; Williams & Rucker, 2000; Williams & Williams-Morris, 2000).
African Americans have elevated mortality rates for 8 of the 10 leading
causes of death in the US (Williams, 1999), and have on average less access
to and receive poorer-quality health care, even controlling for other
variables such as level of health insurance status. Suicide rates among
lesbians and gays are substantially higher than that of the general
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population, and it has been argued that this in part due to the negative
outcomes of prejudice, including negative attitudes and resulting social
isolation (Halpert, 2002).
Direct effects can occur without the knowledge of the individual who is
the target of discrimination. An African American may receive poorer
health care than an equivalent white patient would have, for instance,
without being aware of this discrimination, or a woman may be assigned a
lower salary than an equivalent male employee would have been in
equivalent circumstances. Because most instances of discrimination are
single events, they are easy for the victims to miss. Indeed, Crosby, Clayton,
Alksnis, and Hemker (1986) found that unless the discriminatory events
were presented in a forma t in which the group comparisons were aggregated
across a number of individuals, they were not interpreted as due to
Although discriminati on may in many cases occur out of the awareness of
the target, this is not always the case. Indeed, indirect effects occur when an
individual perceives that he or she is, has been, or will be the victim of
discrimination, and these perceptions influence relevant outcomes. The idea
that perceptions about being the target of discrimination are important
determinants of social judgements has a long literature history within social
psychology (e.g. Goffman, 1963). For instance, in a classic study
demonstrating the importance of indirect effects, Kleck and Strenta (1980)
found that individuals who were led to believe that interaction partner s
thought that they were stigmatised (either that they had a facial scar or were
epileptic) perceived those partners more negatively than those who did not
think the partner thought they were stigmatised, even though the partners
were in fact entirely unaware of the ‘‘stigma’’, and the partners’ behaviour
was not actually more negative than their reactions to control participants.
More recently, Pinel (2002) found that women who expect to be stereotyped
acted more harshly towards a man they believed to be sexist. This behaviour
then elicited unfavourable responses from the male participants. Other
examples of indirect effects include the recent research on stereotype threat,
which demonstrates the potential neg ative effects of perceptions about the
beliefs of others on task perfor mance (e.g., Steele & Aronson, 1995; see
Jones & Stangor, 2003, for a review). Individuals who believe that they are
the vict ims of discrimination may also begin to avoid or distrust members of
the relevant social category (a sense of ‘‘cultural mistrust’’, e.g., Terrell &
Terrell, 1981).
Stigmatised individuals who report experiencing frequent exposure to
discrimination or other forms of unfair treatment also report more
psychological distress, depression, anger, anxiety, and lower levels of life
satisfaction and hap piness (Anderson & Armstead, 1995; Corning, 2002;
Glauser, 1999; Kessler et al., 1999; Klonoff, Landrine, & Ullman, 1999;
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Landrine & Klonoff, 1996; Landrine et al. 1995, Schultz, Israel, Williams,
Parker, Becker, & James, 2000; Swim, Hyers, Cohen, & Ferguson, 2001;
Williams, Spencer, & Jackson, 1999; Williams & Williams-Morris, 2000).
Although the observed correlations between perceptions of discrimination
and negative health outcomes are consistent with direct effects, because the
results are correlational there are of course a variety of other potential
explanations. Particularly, it is possible that indirect effects contribute to the
outcomes—that is, the perception of being discr iminated against may itself
produce negative health outcomes, for instance because it creates anxiety,
anger, or control deprivation.
Research from our labs has demonstrated one indirect outco me of
expecting to be a victim of stereotyping. We have found that expecting to be
a solo member of a group leads people to expect to be stereotyped (C ohen &
Swim, 1995). Furthermore, for women whose confidence had been lowered
(but not for men), these expectations lead to a desire to avoid participating
in such groups. In real-life settings such avoidance may in some cases be
adaptive and appropriate, but in other cases it may lead people to self-se lect
out of important social groups.
Expectations of being stereotyped can also potentially explain why people
are uncertain about their future performance when they are expecting to be
a solo, and why they perform poorly in such contexts. In one study, Stangor,
Carr, and Kiang (1998) had participants first complete a word-finding task.
Half of the participants were given expectations that they had performed
well on this task, whereas the other half were given more ambiguous
performance feedback. Then participants were then asked to predict how
well they would perform on a similar task if they completed it either alone,
or in a group of individuals. Furthermore, the participants who made
judgements about their performance in groups were led to believe that the
group would be made up of either similar others (those who shared their
gender and college major) or different others (individuals who did not share
either their gender or major).
As shown in Figure 1, participants expected to perform better in groups
than they did if they were to work alone (perhaps because they expected they
might get help from others in the group). More importantly, prior
expectations about task performance influenced expectations for subsequent
performance when individuals expected to work alone or in groups in which
they were the majority. In these cases individuals who believed they did well
on the first task predicted they would do well on the second task, in
comparison to those who received ambiguous performance feedback.
However, these prior expectations were completely undermined in the
dissimilar other conditions. That is, gett ing positive feedback was no better
than receiving ambiguous feedback when they anticipated being a solo
member of their gender or college major in a group of different others. These
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negative expectations also play a role in leading solos to actually perform
poorly (Lord & Saenz, 1985; Sekaquaptewa & Thompson, 2003).
In addition to contextual variables, such as solo status, that can
influence the likelihood of perceiving events as related to discrimination,
there are also a number of individual difference variables that moderate
the occurrence of indirect effects across people. In general terms,
individuals who are high in public self-consciousness or who are high
self-monitors may be particularly aware of the social situation, and may
therefore be particularly likely to notice instances of discrimination. These
variables may also influence how people choose to respond to discrimina-
tion (Feldman Barrett & Swim, 1998; Swim, Quinliven, Fitzgerald, &
Eysell, 2003e). In terms of specific social categories, identification with and
salience of the relevant category increases attributions to discrimination on
the basis of the category (Operario & Fiske, 2001; Waters, 1994).
Figure 1. Performance expectations as a function of prior task performance feedback and
expected context for task performance. From Stangor et al. (1998).
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Similarly, individuals who are high in sensitivity to rejection based on their
racial category have been found to be more likely to report more
experiences with negative race events the course of a 3-week diary study
(Mendoza-Denton, Downey, Pur die, Davis, & Pietrzak, 2002).
A heightened sensitivity to discrimination can have positive outcomes, for
instance if it activates self-protection motivations and leads individuals to
select appropriate coping responses (e.g., Hebl & Kleck, 2000; Mallett,
2003). On the other hand , sensitivity may also have negative effects. Race-
based sensitivity is associated with more difficult transitions and poorer
performance in college, as well as less positive feelings about professors
(Mendoza-Denton et al., 2002).
In short, contextual or individual variation in the tendency of stigmatised
group members to expect (or not expect) to be the targets of discriminati on
and to perceive that they have been targets of discrimination may influence
their behaviours and psychological outcomes. These behaviours and
outcomes may be independent of the actual amount of prejudice and
discrimination they currently experience (Feldman Barrett & Swim, 1998).
In order to better understand these indirect effects, it is important to
understand how and when people initially perceive, mak e attributions to,
and respond to discrimination. Differentiating direct and indirect effects is
particularly important from an applied perspective, as interventions to
reduce the harmf ul effects of discrimination would be differentially tailored
depending on the underlying mechanisms.
In the remainder of this chapter we will focus on current research
concerning factors that influence perceptions of discrimination. We review
work from our own lab as well as from the field more broadly. We will focus
on research that attempts to explain contextual and individual variability in
how events that are potentially due to discrimination are initially percei ved,
subsequently interpreted, and then publicly reported or withheld. This
approach is in keeping with other research programmes that have focused
on understanding variability in responses to discrimination (e.g., Crocker,
1999; Friedman & Brownell, 1995; Miller & Downey, 1999).
In our laboratories, we have assumed that the perceptions of discrimination
may influence individuals’ cognitions, emotions, and behaviour at any one
of three stages, as shown in Figure 2. We assume that one or more perceived
‘‘incidents’’, which refer to behaviours directed towards individuals or
groups, and which may or may not constitute discrimination, begin the
process. In most of our research the incident involves a single event,
although the sequence might be started by a series of events over time, for
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Figure 2. Three stages in perceiving discrimination.
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instance the perception that a work environment condones sexism.
sequence ends with one or more ‘‘outcomes’’, which refer to potential effects
on the targets.
In addition to presuming the potential for direct effects of incidents upon
outcomes, we assume that individual interpretations of and reactions to
perceived discrimination may themselves (indirectly) influence outcomes.
Furthermore, the nature of these outcomes is assumed to be influenced by
the extent to which the perceiver engages in one or more of three
information-processi ng stages. These stages include an initial asking stage,
a subsequent interpretation or answering stage, and a public expression of
events (announcing). That is, (1) individuals may or may not initially wonder
whether an incident might be discriminatory or that an individual or group
might harbour prejudice towards them. The asking could be initiated by any
of a wide variety of variables, including characteristics of the incident,
information about the perceiver, or having the question raised by others.
Assuming that the individual questions whether the incident might have
involved discrimination, the individual (2) may or may not interpret the
behaviour as prejudicial or discriminatory. And finally, assuming that the
attribution process leads to an interpretation of the behaviour as due to
discrimination (the answer to the question is ‘‘yes’’), the individual (3) may
or may not decide to overtly report to others that he or she has perceived the
event as discriminatory, or to confront the perpetrator.
Each of the three stages may have unique effects on percept ions, and may
be influenced by both individual-difference and contextual variables.
Furthermore, the current approach explicitly allows the possibility that
individual or contextual differences may increase perceptions of discrimina-
tion at one stage, and yet at the same time decrease perceptions of
discrimination at other stages, and that these discrepancies may predict
particular outcomes. For instance, an individual who has low status or
power in an organisation may be particularly likely to interpret the negative
behaviour of high-status individuals directed at low-status individuals as
constituting discrimination, as a result of an increased sensitivity to the
occurrence of discrimination. Yet at the same time low-status individuals
may be particularly unwilling to report the experienced discrimination out
of fear of negative consequences, thus decreasing the likelihood of
announcing this conclusion to others. This discrepancy between interpreting
the event (stage 2) and reporting discrimination (stage 3) may have
particularly negative outcomes on the individual, including loss of self-
respect or shame resulting from the perception that one has been untrue to
one’s beliefs.
Although we do not address it here, this difference is likely to be critical in terms of how the
precipitating event or events are perceived and their effects on subsequent processing.
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Although Figure 2 suggests that the three stages are sequential (moving
from the top to the bottom of the figure), it is possible that there could also
be some reciprocal or inverse influences. For instance, individuals who fail
to confront discrimination may publicly agree with another person’s
conclusions about an incide nt being the result of discrimination and this
public statement may alter, perhaps through cognitive dissonance, the way
they personally perceive the incident.
In the following sections we consider research that has addressed each of
the three stages outlined in Figure 2. At this point in our research
programme we believe that we have documented effects that occur at each of
the three stages, although we acknowledge that there is in some cases at least
some ambiguity in our research concerning which stage is operating (it has
been particularly difficult to disentangle Stage 1 and Stage 2). We have not
yet, however, found evidence for either interactions between stages or for
reciprocal influences. We expect that these issues will be addressed more
fully over the next few years. Despite these limitations, we believe that our
approach is heuristic, in the sense that it provides a framework for
understanding the relevant processes, makes predictions about how and
when contextual and individual difference variables will be important, and
specifies the important dependent measur es for study.
Stage 1: Asking
Stage 1 involves the initial activation of the question about whether an
incident is discriminatory. For instance, when a woman is denied a job in a
firm that has predominately male employees, she might (or might not)
wonder whether this was a result of gender-based discrimination.
Theoretically, this initial asking is expected to be determined by the current
construct accessibility of discrimination as an explanatory category.
Discrimination, and the resul ting tendency to question whether discrimina-
tion or prejudice is a cause for an incident, may be accessible either as the
result of contextual activation or on the basis of chronic individual
Contextual activation of discri mination
Existing researc h has focused on delineating the characteristics of
behaviours and the social contexts that activate the construct of
discrimination. Certain types of discrimination are more prototypical than
other types, and thus more likely to be initially recognised. For instance,
Marti, Bobier, and Baron (2000) found that race and gender discrimination
were more accessible than age and weight discrimination, and were therefore
more easily recognised. Furthermore, the role of accessibility in initial
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detection was indicated by their finding that explicitly priming prejudice
only increased the detection of initial ly less accessible forms of prejudice.
Prototypical behaviours are also those that have prototypical perpetrators
(Men; Whites) and prototypical targets (Women, Blacks; e.g., Inman &
Baron, 1996). As such, these types of behaviours should also result in greater
activation of the discrimination construct.
Other research also indicates that particular behaviours vary in the
extent to which they are seen as prototypical of discrimination. We (Swim,
Mallett, Russo-Devosa, & Stangor, 2003c) have found, for instance, that
traditional gender role behaviours (e.g., expressing disapproval for
exhibiting behaviour counter to stereotypes about one’s group) are more
likely to be labelled as sexist than is unwanted sexual attention (e.g., sexual
touching when the person knew or should have known that the other
person was not interested or it was inappropriate for the situation),
suggesting that the former are more likely to activate the concept of sexism
than the latter. The use of sexist language may not be perceived as
prototypically sexist because it occurs frequently and may not be seen to
have negative consequences.
We have also found that exposure to discrimination increases its
construct accessibility. Johnston and Swim (1999) had women read about
a proposed study in which men would be asked to rate beer advertisements
and women would be asked to rate wine advertisements. To activate the
construct of discrimination, some of the women were further told that there
were either more beer or more wine advertisements to rate, which meant that
either men or women would have the opportunity to earn more extra credit.
A third group of women was told that men and women would receive equal
opportunity to get credit. The participants were then given a word fragment
completion task. Imbedded in this task were six words that could be
completed as relating to prejudice (e.g., pre__d___which could be
completed as either president or prejudice). As expected, participants who
read about men being able to earn more points than women (M = 2.12) and
women being able to earn more points than men (M = 2.04) completed
more word fragments in terms of their prejudice-related response than those
in the control condition (M = 1.52).
Differences in the context in which behaviours occur may also
influence initial thoughts about discrimination. As we have discussed
above, being in solo status increases the accessibility of discrimination
(e.g., Cohen & Swim, 1995; Stangor et al., 1998). Research on
accessibility of constructs also indicates that recent or frequent activati on
of the construct is likely to result in the activation of the construct
(Higgins & King, 1981). Thus, for example, organisational clim ates in
which sexism is a frequent topic of conversation among individuals is
likely to produce an overall increase in asking, and recent or frequent
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accusations or confrontations with others who are perceived to
discriminate will likely also increase accessibility.
Individual differences in the accessibility of
In addition to contextual variation, some individuals are more likely to have
discrimination chronically accessible and should therefore be more likely to
question the extent to which incide nts are discriminatory. For instance,
members of minority racial groups may be more a ware of racial disparities
and this will likely influence the extent to which they perceive events in racial
terms (Waters, 1994; Stangor, Lynch, Duan, & Glass, 1992). Moreover,
diary research indicates that individuals for whom discrimination is
chronically accessible, such as those who are sensitive to race-based
rejection or feel threatened by the possibility of gender stereotyping, are
more likely to notice its everyday manifestation of discrimination in
comparison to those who are lower in accessibility (Mendoza-Denton et al.,
2002; Swim et al., 2001). This sensitivity might be the result of prior
exposure to discrimination either directed at oneself or other group
members, or may be due to being part of a social milieu in which
discrimination is seen as prevalent.
Many analyses of the psychology of the stigmatised argue that members
of stigmatised groups will be particularly aware of or sensitive to the
potential for discrimin ation (Crocker & Major, 1989; Swim, Aikin, Hall, &
Hunter, 1995). Allport (1954) argued that minority groups might use the
‘‘ego defence’’ of ‘‘hypervigilance’’, and thus overestimate the occurrence of
discrimination (p. 144). Not only is such a prediction highly intuitive, but it
follows from many considerations of the psychology of being a target of
discrimination. Stigmatised individuals are (by definition) typically the
targets of discrimination, and since discrimination represents a potential
threat to one’s well-being, they should be particular ly wary of the potential
for it (Feldman Bar rett & Swim, 1998; Inman & Baron, 1996). Despite this
latter possibility, our research has found little evidence that stigmatised
groups are hypersensitive about the occurrence of discrimination in their
environments. In contrast there appears to be evidence of insensitivity. As
one example of this apparent insensitivity, Table 1 shows the results of
research from our lab in which we simply asked college students to indicate
the categories that they belonged to in terms of which they had experienced
discrimination (Stangor, Sechrist, & Swim, 2002). This procedure is based
on prior research that has assessed the construct accessibility of categories in
terms of priority of activation in thought-listing tasks (Higgins & King,
1981). Participants were allowed to list only one category, and were told that
only if they were absolutely unable to think of any category should they
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leave the question blank. To help ensure that our measure assessed initial
perceptions of the occurrence of discrimination, free of concerns about
public reporting, participants were guaranteed complete anonymity.
We coded each response into one of four categories. Table 1a shows the
results broken down by gender and Table 1b shows them broken down by race
(white vs non-white). Supporting the assumption that stigmatised individuals
are more accessible for discrimination in comparison to the non-stigmatised,
women were significantly more likely to indicate that they had been
discriminated against on the basis of gender in comparison to men, and non-
white participants were more likely to indicate that they had been
discriminated against on the basis of ethnicity in comparison to white
(European American) participants. However, 91% of women did not mention
gender and 52% of minorities did not mention ethnicity. Also, almost half of
the wom en and 36% of the minorities indicated that they could not think of a
group that they belonged to upon which they experienced discrimination.
These data do not seem consistent with the idea that the stigmatised are
hypersensitive to the occurrence of discrimination directed at them. Rather,
these students did not report seeing much discrimination at all—with a large
proportion finding it impossible to list even a single category. Although it is
possible that the participants were embarr assed to report being the targets of
discrimination, we attempted to minimis e this by encouraging honesty and
making the responses entirely anonymous. However, participating in a study
that was clearly about discrimination would have been expected to, if
anything, increase the accessibility of discrimination and thus increase
Percentage of students indicating they had been the targets of discrimination on the
basis of various social categories, by gender and ethnicity
Category Male Female Category Non-white White
Gender 2% 9% Ethnicity 48% 9%
Ethnicity 21% 21% Gender 3% 9%
Religion 10% 11% Religion 5% 14%
Other 18% 17% Other 8% 22%
None 50% 42% None 36% 47%
A. Gender of participant. B. Ethnicity of participant.
These results are not likely a function of college students’ lack of experience with or
observation of discrimination. When college students were asked to record their observations of
sexism and racism in a daily diary they typically reported at least one incident every other week
(Swim et al., 2001; Swim, Hyers, Cohen, Fitzgerald, & Bylsma, 2003b).
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One limitation of these data is that it is possible that they asses s, at least to
some degree, the answering as well as the asking stage. That is, if individuals
do not perceive that they are the victims of discriminatio n, we assume that
this is because they do not initially see it. However, it is possible that they
have in fact been suspicious about events and subsequently reinterpreted
them as being due to other factors. However, we have also conducted
research that is designed to assess the asking stage more unambiguously.
If there is individual variability in the extent to which people are
suspicious ab out discrimination, then this variability should function as a
type of social schema which should influence how they remember events that
occur to them. Assessing the impact of schemas on memory for relev ant
information provides an unobtrusive measure that shou ld assess only Stage
1 processing—the tendency to initially encode or fail to encode information
in terms of discrimination.
Using the free-response measure that we have just described, Stangor et
al. (2002, Experiment 3) selected women for whom gender discrimination
was an accessible construct because they had spontaneously indicated
gender as a category upon which they had been the target of discrimination,
as well as women who were not accessible because they had not indicated
that they had been so discriminated against. The women believed that they
would be participating in a study concerning ‘‘reactions to the media’’. After
reading and signing a consent form, participants responded to a series
of headlines, supposedly extracted from local newspapers, which were
presented sequentially via computer. The participants were asked to rate
how interested they would be in reading the article that they expected would
accompany each of the headlines by rating it on a scale from 1 (not at all
interesting) to 7 (extremely interesting). We included this measure only to
make sure that the participants paid attention to the headlines.
A total of 48 headlines were presented. Of these headlines 12 dealt with
sexual discrimination (for instance, ‘‘College women lose battle for equal
rights’’; ‘‘Local employer indicted on sexism charges’’), 12 pertained to
discrimination against African Americans (for instance, ‘‘Country club
under scrutiny for de nying membership to African-Americans’’; ‘‘Black
males more likely to receive stricte r sentencing than white males’’), and 24
were about miscellaneous topics (‘‘Stereo equipment stolen from dorm
room’’; ‘‘Marijuana use again increasing on campus’’). To reduce the
likelihood of any differences in interpretation of the meaning of the
headlines, and thus to assure that we were assessing the asking and not the
answering stage, the headlines were selected to unambiguously portray
discrimination. After reading and rating all of the headlines, the participants
were given instructions to complete a short distractor task designed to clear
short-term memory. Participants listed as many US states as they could
think of for 5 minutes.
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After completing the distractor task, participants were provided with a
test set of 72 headlines (48 original and 24 new) and asked to rate whether or
not they had seen the headline in the first rating session. If they thought the
headline had previously been viewed, participants were asked to indicate
‘‘old’’, whereas if they believed the headline had not been previously viewed,
they were to indicate ‘‘new’’. The specific headlines that appeared in the
initial presentation and those that appeared in the memory test were
randomly chosen for each participant, and the order of presentation of the
items was also random.
On the basis of signal detection theory, we operationalised both a
measure of recognition sensitivity (A) and a measur e of response bias (B’’),
separately for each of the three types of headlines. Sensitivity refers to the
ability of the participant to accurately indicate whether a headline had or
had not previously been seen, whereas response bias refers to a tendency to
set a liberal or conservative criterion for reporting an item as having been
seen. We expected that both variables might be influenced by gender
prejudice accessibility, but there wer e no significant effects on the response
bias measure. However, on the recognition sensitivity measur e, a significant
interaction between the two varia bles was found. As shown in Table 2,
women for whom gender discrimination was an accessible category showed
better recognition memory for the sexist headlines than did the women for
whom sexism was less accessible. In con trast, there were no significant
differences between high- and low-accessibility women’s memory for race-
related or miscellaneous headlines. We again did not find any evidence for
hyper-accessibility. The high-accessible women did not show greater
sensitivity for the sexist headlines than for the other types. Rather, it was
the low-accessible women who had lower perceptual accuracy in comparison
to the high-accessible women, and in comparison to memory for the other
headline types. We have found similar results in another published study
(Stangor, Sechrist, & Swim, 1999).
Recognition sensitivity by gender discrimination accessibility and headline type
Headline type
accessibility Sexism Racism Miscellaneous
High .98
(.02) (.05) (.03)
Low .86
(.25) (.12) (.05)
Standard deviations in parentheses. Means within a column that do not share a superscript are
significantly different at p 5 .05 by planned comparison.
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In summary, although they must be made somewhat tentatively, we can
nevertheless draw several conclusions about initial asking. There is an array of
contextual variables that are likely to influence the accessibility of the construct
of discrimination and as such, the likelihood that people will consider the
possibility that discriminati on has occurred. There are also individual
differences in the tendency for individuals to be concerned about discrimina-
tion. Mo reover, althoug h some groups are more likely to think about
discrimination than other groups, many of the college students in our studies
indicated that they had never experienced discrimination on the basis of any
categories to which they belonged, and those that have discrimination more
accessible can be more accurately characterised as sensitive than necessarily
biased in their attention to such incidents. Although these variables may also
influence the outcomes of Stage 2 and Stage 3 processing, existing research is
consistent with the idea that they also relate to initial noticing or asking.
In terms of potential outcomes of Stage 1 processing, if an individual
never asks the question—that is, does not even consider an event as
potentially due to discrimination—then the path from the incident to the
outcome reverts to a direct effect. The event may still have harmful
outcomes, but if it does it is independent of any perceptual indirect effects.
On the other hand, if the question is asked, the second stage of information
processing comes into play, and it is to this stage that we now turn.
Stage 2: Interpretation of potentially discriminatory
After a behaviour has initially been categorised as potentially being due to
discrimination (that is, the outcome of Stage 1 is an init ial activation of the
possibility of discrimination), an individual will attempt to determine whether
they have or have not observed discrimination. A woman may wonder
whether a man treated her in a sexist manner, and then learn that he has
differentially treated men and women in the past, leading her to be relatively
certain that the man is sexist. Alternatively, she may determine that there is an
alternative, nondiscriminatory, explanation for his behaviour, for instance
deciding that the negative outcomes reflect her lack of ability in the domain,
eventually concluding that she was not treated in a sexist manner.
Underlying processes
Whereas Stage 1 processing is assumed to be determined by the category
accessibility of discrimination as an interpretive category and to occur
relatively automatically, Stage 2 is assumed to be determined by the
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application of relevant beliefs to a judgement. Which beliefs are activated
and applied may be determined by either cognitive (for instance, cognitive
load or judgements of what type of information is relevant for making a
judgement of discrimi nation), affective (e.g., mood as information), or
motivational (for instance, the denial or enhancement of discrimination to
maintain a positive self-image or a sense of a just world) processes.
Stage 2 processing may either increase or decrease the likelihood of
interpreting an event as due to discrimination. For instance, according to the
attributional ambiguity model of Crocker and Major (1989), stigmatised
individuals should in many cases prefer to make attributions for negative
events to discrimination rather than to lack of ability, because doing so is
self-protective (Major, Quinton, & Schmader, 2003). On the other hand,
individuals may also prefer in some contexts to minimise or deny that they
or others have experienced discrimination. The conditions under which each
of these two processes may occur are summarised by Major, Quinton, &
McCoy, 2002, and by Major, McCoy, Kaiser, & Quinton 2003 (this
volume). There are many potential variables that could influence the
outcome of Stage 2 processing, and we can only consider a relatively limited
number here.
Cognitive load. Consistent with existing ‘‘dual process’’ models of
decision making, we have found that cognitive capacity can influence the
processing of information related to discrimination. DeCoster and Swim
(2002) had female participants read a description of a woman who was
interviewing for either a stereotypicall y masculine (electrician) or a
stereotypically feminine (daycare worker) job. The male interviewer did
not offer her the position, and this decision was justified with either a strong
or a weak reason. Crossed with this manipulation of job type, half of the
participants made these decisions under high cognitive load (while being
asked to count the number of pronouns in the stimuli as they read them),
whereas the other half of the participants were not given a cognitive load.
Demonstrating that they were making use of the job description in
determining whether the interviewer’s behaviour might have been the result
of discrimination, the women were more likely to conclude that the boss was
prejudiced against women in the masculine job than in the feminine job
conditions, regardless of cognitive load. However, the ability to system-
atically process the reviewers’ justifications varied as a function of the load
manipulation. When under cognitive load, participants’ conclusions were
unaffected by the strength of the interviewer’s justifications, indicating that
they were unable to systematically process the information about the reason
for the decision, and simply categorised the behaviour as discriminatory.
However, when participants were not under cognitive load, they were more
likely to conclude that the interviewer was prejudiced against the woman
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when he gave a weak argument for not hiring her than when he gave a
strong argument. This research illustrates that both heuristic and systematic
processing play a role in perceptions of prejudice and discrimination.
Attributional processing. Stage 2 processing is expected to include, in
part, attributional processing of relevant information. The outcome of
attributional processing about negative behaviours can be influenced both
by assessments of people’s intent to engage in the behaviour, as well as by
the amount of harm done to the recipient. As Jones (1997), put it, ‘‘acts that
constitute bias depend, in part on the target’s reaction, as well as the actor’s
intention’’ (p. 306).
To assess the joint effects of intent and harm in the interpretation of
discrimination, Swim, Scott, Sechrist, Campbell and Stangor (2003f) had
participants read vignettes about events in which women and men were
treated differently. The scenarios varied in terms of the amount of harm
done to the woman and the degree to which the man intended to engage in
the behaviour. After reading the scenarios, women were asked to rate the
extent to which the man was sexist and the action was discriminatory. As
Figure 3 illustrates, these results revealed that the degree of both intent and
harm influenced the judgement that an event was due to discrimination,
although intent was more important than harm, in that harm did not add to
perceptions of discrimination when there was evidence of high intent.
Furthermore, the results also indicated that when information about either
intent or harm was not present, perceivers nevertheless made assumptions
about it from the presence of the other. For instan ce, when a target person
was harmed, perceivers tended to assume that the actor intended to
discriminate. This finding has potenti al implications for intergroup
relations, because it indicates that different people may draw different
conclusions about the causes of an event based on the information they have
available to them, and which information they find most important. As an
example, targets more than actors may focus more on the harm done to a
victim, whereas actors more than targets may focus more on the intent. If
this were the case, these different interpretations and emphases could result
in misunderstandings and conflict.
Individual differences. Individual differences are also likely to influence
Stage 2 processing, both because of differences in the extent to which
individuals are motivated to collect and process information, as well as
because of differences in the use and interpretation of information available.
For instance, targets of prejudice are more likely than observers to be
influenced by the harm that the target experiences when making judgements
of prejudice and discrimination (Swim et al., 2003b). This could be because
targets have greater access to the extent to which an incident has harmed
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them than observers. Also, Whites are less likely than Blacks to attribute a
White supervisor’s negative treatment of Black employee to prejudice when
the White supervisor’s negative treatment was constrained by circumstances
(Johnson, Simmons, Trawalter, Ferguson, & Reed, 2002). This race
difference can be explained by race differences in perceptions of the
prevalence of racism.
Differences in racial identity can also influence interpretation of incidents.
Operario and Fiske (2001) had minority participants, pre-selected as either
high or low ethnically identified, interact with a White, female confederate,
who after a brief, awkward interaction, left the room and did not return.
Operario and Fiske found that individuals who were more identified with
their ethnic group made more attributions to prejudice and rated the
Figure 3. The role of intent and harm in attributions to discrimination. From Swim et al.
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confederate as significantly more discriminatory than did those low on
ethnic identity. Similarly, Major et al. (2002) found that gender identity
predicted women’s attributions to sexism in situations in which the true
causes of the events were ambiguous, and yet in which discrimination had
been primed because a confederate had indicated that she had heard that the
experimenters treated men and women differently.
The role of affect. The extent to which an event is interpreted as being
the outcome of discrimination may also be influenced by the individual’s
current affective state. Sechrist, Swim, and Mark (2002) induced women into
positive or negative mood states using the Velten Mood Induction
procedure. The mood induction involves reading 60 positive (‘‘I feel
cheerful and lively’’) or negative (‘‘My life is so tiresome—the same old thing
day after day depresses me’’) sentences. Then half of the participants were
provided with an external attribution for their current mood state.
Specifically, half of the participants were informed that their current
feelings may have been influenced by previous questionnaires and then were
asked to indicate how they currently felt. Thus, they were reminded of the
earlier positive or negative mood-producing task before indicating their
mood. All other participants wer e also asked to report their current feel ings,
but they were not given a potential external attribution for their mood (cf.
Schwarz & Clore, 1996; Wyer & Carlston, 1979).
Participants then reported on their perceptions of the extent of
discrimination that occurred to themselves and to other women. Specifically,
they were asked to indicate on 7-point Likert scales (1 = not at all; 7 = very
much) the extent to which they and other women had experienced gender
discrimination. Demonstrating that mood was used as information, as
shown in Figure 4, results showed that when an external attribution for
induced mood was not provided, women in negative moods were more likely
to report that they and other women have experience d discrimination than
were women in positive moods. When an external attribution for the mood
state was available, however, mood had no significant effect on judgements.
Maintaining positive self-regard. The outcomes of all three stages in
our framework—but perhaps most importantly Stage 2—are likely to be
influenced by the general goal of maintaining a positive psychological
state. The research programmes of Major and her colleagues (Crocker &
Major, 1989; Major et al., 2002; Major et al., this volume) and of
Branscombe a nd her colleagues (e.g., Branscombe, Schmitt, & Harvey,
1999; Jetten, Branscombe, Schmitt, & Spears, 2001; Kobrynowicz &
Branscombe, 1997; Schmitt & Branscombe, 2002) hav e both directly
addressed this issue, and the important variables in this regard are
summarised by Major et al. (2002).
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In general, both Major and her colleagues as well as Branscombe and her
colleagues agree with our general expectation that the outcomes of negative
events for members of stigmatised groups are often ambiguous, in the sense
that they may or may not be due to discrimination, and that the perceiver
must attempt to disambiguate the causes of these events. Crocker and Major
(1989) defined this state—attributional ambiguity—as an uncertainty about
whether the outcomes one receives are indicative of one’s personal
deservingness or of social prejudices that others have against one’s social
group. According to this model, attribut ions to discrimination occur at both
the level of cognitive appraisals, and at the level of coping processes.
Prior research has suggested that people may underestimate the extent to
which they have personally experienced discrimination, for instance, in
comparison to their perceptions of the amount of discrimination that occurs
to their social group as a whole (Taylor, Wright, Moghaddam, & Lalonde,
1990). This ‘‘personal-group discrepancy’’ is robust, and has been
demonstrated among various stigmatised as well as non-stigmatised groups
in a wide variety of laboratory and naturally occurring situations
Figure 4. Attributions to discrimination as a function of mood state and opportunity for
external attribution. From Sechrist et al. (2002).
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(Kobrynowicz & Branscombe, 1997; Moghaddam, Stolkin, & Hutcheson,
1997; Taylor, Wright, & Porter, 1994).
Although there are a number of explanations for this individual group
discrepancy in perceiving discrimination, one possibility is that people deny
that they personally experience discrimination to maintain a sense of control
over their outcomes. Although this seems possible, our research into the role
of perceived control (Sechrist, Swim, & Stangor, 2003) was based on the
assumption that making attributions to discrimination (rather than to one’s
lack of ability) may also allow individuals to reassert personal control over a
situation. People have a fundamental need to maint ain control, and will
attempt to reassert this perception if they are deprived of it (Burger, 1992).
We predicted that individuals with high needs for personal control, who
were therefore in need of maintaining or restoring a positive self-image,
would be more likely to interpret negative events as due to discrimination.
Confirming these predictions, we found that women who were high in
dispositional need for control—as assessed using Burger and Cooper’s
(1979) Desire for Control Scale—were more likely than those low in need for
control to conclude that negative feedback about one’s own performance on
a task was a result of discrimination, rather than ability. Similarly, in a
second study, we found that this was also true for women who were placed
into a state of control deprivation (using a procedure developed by Pittman
& D’Agostino, 1989). Moreover mediational analyses in this experiment
showed that making the attribution to discrimination subsequently
increased women’s level of perceived control.
Although the results of these studies are not entirely consistent with other
research suggesting that peop le may deny discrimination to maintain
personal control over outcomes, they are nevertheless consistent with the
overall notion that people may either enhance or deny discrimination in
order to protect their self-image. The conditions under which needs for
control lead people to over-, versus under-estimate the extent to which
behaviours reflect discriminati on still need to be de termined.
Perceiving a ‘‘just world’’. Still another potential determinant of
perceptions of discrimination is that people are motivated to maintain
perceptions that the world is just—that is, that individuals deserve the
outcomes that occur to them. As a result, people show a pervasive tendency
to justify existing status hierarchies and outcome distributions, even when
those hierarchies and distributions are disadvantageous to themselves or to
their group (Jost & Banaji, 1994; Kleugel & Smith, 1986; Major, 1994;
Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). Because discrimination is, by definition, unfair to
the target of the behaviour, members of disadvantaged groups may be
motivated to avoid blaming their negative outcomes on prejudice and
discrimination, even when such explanations are likely or even good
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accounts for their treatment (Crosby, 1984; Olson & Hafer, 2001). Indeed, it
has long been argued that social inequality persists because members of low-
status groups are victims of false consciousness—that is, they fail to
recognise the illegitimacy of the status system and of their own
disadvantaged position within it (Jost, 199 5).
The relationship between Stage 1 and Stage 2
Although Stage 1 and Stage 2 processing are hypothesised to be distinct
cognitive stages, they are nevertheless closely linked. For one thing, if a
person does not ask whether a situation is discriminatory or a person is
prejudiced (Stage 1), she or he will never come to the conclusion that there is
discrimination or a person is prejudiced (Stage 2). Moreover, the outcomes
of Stage 1 and Stage 2 may both be related to similar individual-difference
variables. People who are more chronically accessible for discrimination
(Stage 1) are probably also likely to process information in a way that leads
them to conclude that an event is discriminatory or a person is prejudiced
(Stage 2). For instance, racial identity is associated with perceiving
discrimination to be more prevalent—indicat ing that this construct is likely
to be more accessible to these individuals—and is also associated with being
more likely to identify specific incidents as racist (Operario & Fiske, 2001).
Other variables, such as stigma consciousness, race-based rejection
sensitivity, or cultural mistrust, may also increase both Stage 1 and Stage
2 processing (Pinel, 2002, Mendoza et al., 2002: Terrell & Terrell, 1981).
On the other hand, discrepancies between Stage 1 and Stage 2 may be
important for accounting for sources of variations in assessments of
particular incidents as well as the prevalence of discrimination. For instance,
in some cases, constructs may be equally accessible across individuals. This
may be why several individual differences, such as racial identity,
endorsement of sexist beliefs, and reporting that one actively confronts
sexism, were weakly related or unrelated to number of everyday
discrimination reported in diary studies (Swim et al., 2001; Swim et al.,
2003b). Participating in the diary study may have made discrimination more
equally accessible across individuals. This suggests that some individual
differences may be principally related to perceptions of the prevalence of
discrimination due to differences in the accessibility of the construct more so
than difference in the interpretation of the incidents. On the other hand,
other individual differences may be more strongly associated with differences
in interpretation of incidents rather than accessibil ity. For instance, in diary
studies, women report more incidents of everyday sexism directed at women
than do men (Swim et al., 2001). Given that both were attending to such
incidents, one explanation for the gender difference may be their
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interpretation of the incidents. Women are more likely to perceive
behaviours and comments as being offensive than men and this accounts
for differences in labelling the behaviours as sexis t (Swim et al., 2003c).
In summary, Stage 2 process ing involves individual and contextual variation
in the tendency to interpret behaviours as discrimination. This variability
may be the result of situations that alter the capacity to process information,
differences in the tendency to weigh different causal variables when
interpreting behaviours, and whether one’s mood is used as information
when making attributions. Individuals may also be more or less likely to
construe events as discrimination in order to maintain a positive sense of self
(for instance, to maintain or regain personal control) or a sense that they live
in a just world. Thus different types of information are differentially used by
different people for differen t reasons, and the result of this processing may
either validate or invalidate initial suspicions that arise from the activati on
discrimination or prejudice as a possible interpretation of an incident. In
general, variability in Stage 2 processing suggests that different people (for
instance, perpetr ators, victims, and observers) may come to different
conclusions about an event based on the information they have available
and their interpretations of it. It is also possibl e (although we have not yet
tested this) that how relevant others publicly interpret potentially
discriminatory events may also influence the individual’s own interpreta-
tions. Individuals construe social reality in part on the basis of the
perceptions of relevant others’ beliefs, and these processes may be
particularly important in coming to conclusions about the experience of
discrimination. Regardless of their causes, these differences in interpretation
may play an important role in perpetuating intergroup misunderstandings.
As shown in Figure 2, if the outcome of Stage 2 processing is a conclusion
that an event was not the result of discrimination, the initial event may
nevertheless influence individual outcomes. Indeed, continually perceiving
discrimination, but then convincing oneself that it is not, may have
substantial psychological costs. On the other hand, if the outcome of Stage 2
processing is an affirmation of the initial suspicion, and if there is an
opportunity for public expression of this belief, then the individual proceeds
to Stage 3.
Stage 3: Overt reporting and confronting
Once an individual has initially asked whether an event was due to
discrimination (Stage 1), and subsequently determined that the event really
was due to discrimination and not some other factor (Stage 2), they may be
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faced with a decision about whether to overtly announce the perceived
discrimination, by reporting it publicly or confronting it (Stage 3). These
decisions are influenced in large part by a target’s goals in the interaction
(Hyers, 2003). One particularly important goal is a concern to portray a
positive impression to others (cf. Noel, Wann, & Branscombe, 1995;
Postmes, Branscombe, Spears & Young, 1999).
The costs and benefits of publicly reporting
Kaiser and Miller (2001) proposed that self-presentation (and particularly
the desire to be liked by others) is a motivation for stigmatised individuals to
avoid making attributions to discrimination in public. In their research,
participants (predominantly white males) read about an African-American
student who had received a negative evaluation on a test in a context in
which discrimination was either a likely or an unlikely cause. The
participants were then presented with a packet containing a survey that
had supposedly been filled out by the student, and which concerned his
responses to his evaluation. Results showed that the stigmatised student was
rated less favourably and perceived as a ‘‘complainer’’ to a greater degree
when the student attributed his poor performance to discrimination rather
than to ability and effort. Furthermore, this was true regardless of the
probability that discrimination was a valid cause of the performance. This
tendency to dislike people who complain about discrimination is not limited
to African Americans; Dodd, Giuliano, Boutell, and Moran (2001) reported
that men liked a woman less if she confronted blatant sexism than if she did
not confront it.
One limitation of this prior research is that it focused primarily on the
costs of claiming discrimination. But publicly announcing one’s opinion that
an incident is discriminatory can also have social benefits. Recent research
from our lab (Stangor, Van Allen, & Swim, 2003) confirms some of these
benefits of confronting. We repli cated the Kaiser and Miller study, using the
same trait ratings that they had used. However, when we factored the items
we found that they represented three variables—perceived likeability,
perceived competence, as well as the tendency to complain. The first two
factors are remarkably consistent with Fiske’s recent conceptualisation of
stereotypes (Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002; Fiske, Xu, Cuddy, & Glick,
1999) as relating to warmth and competence, and validate the distinction
between them in a different context. Replicating Kaiser and Miller (2001), we
found that claiming that a negative outcome was due to discrimination,
rather than ability, significantly decreased the perceived liking (warmth) of
the target, and also made them seem like a ‘‘complainer’’. However, claiming
discrimination rather than ability also had a benefit—it significantly
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increased the target’s perceived competence. Furthermore, and suggesting
that the tendency to see these costs and benefits was quite general, these
patterns held up for both older adults as well as college students, and for both
Black and White participants judging both Black and White targets. We also
found similar findings for the perception of individuals who claim gender
discrimination (both men and women judging both male and female targets).
A second potential advantage of publicly claiming discrimination is that
it may increase the likelihood that others become aware of the possibility
that events are caused by discrimination. Indeed, Stangor et al. (2003) found
that when targets were said to have claimed discrimination, the observers of
the event were themselves more likely to label the event as discrimination.
Hyers (2003) found that women reported confronting both because they felt
that they would appear weak if they did not and because they felt that
confronting might educate others. Although confronting, especially by those
who are the direct target of prejudice, may not actually end up changing
perpetrator beliefs (Czopp & Monteith, 2003), other research indicates that
confronting can have other benefits such as altering bystanders’ perceptions
of events or changing social norms as to what is considered appropriate
behaviour (Blanchard, Crandall, Brigham, & Vaughn, 1994; Lalonde &
Cameron, 1994).
Discrepancies between Stage 2 and Stage 3
The prior research shows that there are clear costs associated with publicly
reporting and confronting discrimination, and this suggests that what one
perceives at a private level (i.e., the outcome of Stage 2 processing) may not
match what one reports publicly (the outcome of Stage 3 processing). This
discrepancy may be important in understanding how people perceive and
respond to discrimination. In the following section, we report studies from
our lab that have explicitly assessed the discrepancies between Stage 2 and
Stage 3 processing.
Differences in stigmatised and non-stigmatised group members’ attributions
to discrimination. The results of recent research by Stangor, Swim, Van
Allen, and Sechrist (2001) suggest that individuals alter their public
behaviours based on the potential self-pre sentation costs of claiming
discrimination, and that self-presentation plays a more important role in
whether or not stigmatised group members report discrimination than in
whether or not non-stigmatised group members report discrimination. In
these studies we examined participants’ attributions to discrimination after
they received negative feedback on a creativity test in public and private
settings. The public condition consisted of two participants who were told
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that their judgements about the causes of their failure would be reported
aloud. In the private condition, participants (who were either alone or in the
presence of another participant) were told that all of their responses would
remain private and confidential.
As shown in Figure 5, we found that members of stigmatised groups (in
this case women) were more likely to report that a failing grade assigned by
an opposite-category evaluator (a man) was caused by discrimi nation, rather
than by lack of ability or effort, when judgements were made privately, or
when they were made in front of another woman. However, we also found
that women were significantly more likely to make ability (rather than
discrimination) attributions when they expected to report these responses in
the presence of a male student. Male participants, however, were not
influenced by the social context. We also found that Blacks were unwilling to
report discrimination in front of Whites, although they were quite willing to
do so in private and to another Black participant. Again, White participants
were not influenced by the social context. Thus, as might be expecte d given a
history of experiencing the negative outcomes associated with claiming
discrimination, stigmatised individuals seem particularly awar e of the social
Figure 5. Female participants’ attributions to ability and sexism as a function of social context.
From Stangor et al. (2001).
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costs involved in reporting discrimination to non-stigmatised individuals,
whereas non-stigmatised group members do not seem to be so concerned.
These results are also consistent with the possibility that minimisation is due
in part to a desire to avoid negative social con sequences from higher-status
group members. As Major et al. (2002) put it, ‘‘Members of low status groups
may fear retaliation (Swim & Hyers, 1999) or being labeled a ‘complainer
(Kaiser & Miller, 2001) by members of high status groups but may not have
such fears with respect to members of their own group.’’
Attributing discrimination to the self versus another. Additional research
from our lab suggests that self-presentation concerns are particularly
salient when they involve reports about one’s own experiences with
discrimination in comparison to when they involve the experiences of
another in-group member. Sechrist, Swim, and Stangor (2003) gave
women the opportunity to make an attribution to ability or to
discrimination for negative feedback that had occurred either to the self
or to another, similar, woman; again these attribution s were made
either in public or in private. We found that women were equally
likely to make attributions to discrimination in public as in private
when the negative feedback was directed at another woman. However,
when the negative feedback was directed at the self, women were less
likely to claim that their outcomes were due to discrimination in public
than in private. These resul ts suggest that although individuals may be
aware that claiming one has been the victim of discrimination will be
seen as complaining, reporting discrimination that has been directed
against another person could, in contrast, be seen as a way of
supporting them.
Confronting sexism. The previous studies have focused on the condi-
tions that influence stigmatised individuals’ willingness to make an
attribution to discrimination. The willingness to make such a public
attribution can be important in terms of one’s willingness to confront
sexism. For instance, women who have a tendency to present a different
public than private self due to pressure to conform to traditional gender
roles are more likely to report having self-silenced to incidents that they
report were likely to be sexist (Swim et al., 2003e).
Laboratory studies have explicitly examined public reporting in the
form of confronting sexism. Swim and Hyers (1999) observed women’s
willingness to confront sexist comments made by men in a group setting.
Consistent with the findings reported above, they found that women’s
private thoughts abo ut confronting were unrelated to their public
thoughts. Moreover, when the situation these women faced was described
to another group of women, this second group of women overestimated
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the likelihoo d that they would publicly confront the man who made the
sexist comment.
The results from Swim and Hyers (1999) also point to specific social
conditions that can influence women’s willingness to publicly confront
sexism. Specifically, we found that women were initially more willing to
confront sexis m when they were the only women present than if other
women were present in the group setting. After they observed the same man
making additional sexist comments, however, there was no difference in the
context in terms of their willingness to confront (see Figure 6). This suggests
that women are looking to other women to decide how to respond and that
diffusion of responsibility, rather than, for instance, antic ipating social
support, directed their behaviour.
Summary. Existing research clearly demonstrates that even though people
may in some cases view discrimination when asked to report anonymously
Figure 6. Percent of women who confronted as a function of the presence of other women in the
group. From Swim and Hyers (1999).
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and privately, they may nevertheless be unwilling to publicly express that
they have been targets or to confront perpetrators. These discrepancies may
help us understand variations in people’s reports about their own and
others’ experiences with discrimination, and may help explain why
individuals frequently do not report or confront the discrimination that
occurs to them. If individuals are not rep orting discrimination due to
perceived social co sts, this may create a type of pluralistic ignoranc e in
which others may erroneously infer that they are not experiencing it.
However, although existing research has primarily revealed variables that
demonstrate the potential costs of reporting discrimination, there are also
potential benefits that accrue when one does so. These include educating
others about the possibility that discrimination is occurring and appearing
competent to others.
Our research programme, as well as those of oth ers (see Major et al., 2002;
Major et al., this volume; Schmitt & Branscombe, 2002) is focusing on the
extent to which member s of stigmatised social groups perceive and/or
misperceive the discrimination directed at them. The research is based on the
assumption that members of stigmatised groups may suffer from discrimi-
nation both as a result of its direct negative effects, as well as because of their
beliefs that they are, or are not, victims. Thus the stigmatised may hold
stereotypes about the attitudes and expected motives of more powerful
group members, and these stereotypes may be stronger for some individuals
than others, and may or may not be contextually activated. Like all
stereotypes, the expectations that the stigmatised hold about those with
higher status may be in some senses accurate and in other senses inaccurate.
And yet because they are overgeneralised they may be harmful to creating
positive intergroup encounters. Indeed, the direct effects of prejudice and
discrimination on the stigmatised may reflect only the tip of the causal
iceberg. As in virtually every domain studied by social psychologists,
perceptions may turn out to be as or more important than reality.
Although individuals may either over- or under-estimate the occurrence
of discrimination directed at them, taken togeth er our resul ts seem more
consistent with other findings indicating that individuals are often unlikely
to perceive and report discrimination that occurs to them personally
(Crosby et al., 1986; Magley, Hulin, Fitzgerald, & DeNardo, 1999).
Furthermore, this minimisation can occur at different points in the
information-processi ng cycle—because individuals do not initially notice
that an incident may be discriminatory, because they do not interpret the
event as discrimination, or as a result of anticipated costs to publicly
reporting or confronting it.
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On a practical level, there are both costs and benefits to underestimating
the occurrence of discrimination (Feldman Barrett & Swim, 1998). On the
positive side, individuals who are una ware of discr imination may be able to
avoid the costs of becoming hostile and angry towards perpetrators, and
they will be immune from the negative indirect outcomes of stereotyping,
such as stereotype threat. Furthermore, they will avoid the potential costs
associated with publicly reporting discrimination. However, if individuals
from stigmatised groups underestimate that events that occur to them are
discriminatory, they may be unprepared to cope with or respond to true
discrimination when it occurs. And, at a social level, when large groups of
individuals are unaware of the existence of prejudice, this may result in an
unwillingness or inability to challenge the system (Jost & Banaji, 1994).
Because we are in a relatively early stage of the testing of our proposed
framework, there are many issues that we have not yet addressed. One issue
is that our stage approach predicts that it is not only the outcome of
different types of processing that is important, but that dissociations
between the stages can also influence psychological responses to discrimina-
tion. An interesting research hypothesis, which has been proposed both by
us and also by Miller and Kaiser (2001) is that discrepancies between Stage 1
and Stage 2 processing may have important influence on psychological
health such that, if individuals do not initially become suspicious about
discrimination, this will protect them psychologically. However initially
noticing discrimination, but then subsequently denying or reinterpreting
events as due to other causes, may produce negative outcomes . Similarly, a
dissociation between Stage 2 and Stage 3 might occur such that perceiving
discrimination at a private level, but then denying or failing to confront it
publicly, could be psychologically costly if it violates a person’s need to be
true to oneself. There are likely to be large psychological costs when
individuals know that they are victims of discrimination and yet do not feel
that they can report these experiences or feel helpless to effect social change.
These and other interesting questions await our attention and that of others.
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... That is, the worldview of a person who believes strongly that individual outcomes are based primarily on merit will tend to be threatened by information that one's own or others' opportunities are hampered by discrimination (Major et al., 2007). Thus, to preserve the integrity of their worldviews, people may (re)frame discrimination as stemming from legitimate processes, downplay the impact of discrimination, or simply be less apt to realize that an action might be discriminatory (Major et al., 2007;Stangor et al., 2003). Research suggests that ideology plays this role for third-party observers (Major et al. 2002(Major et al. , 2007 O'Connor and Kmec 2020), but we do not know whether ideology loses its force when it collides with the self-interest of targets of discrimination in specific discriminatory decisions. ...
... It matters whether workers perceive discrimination as such because it will guide whether they experience the "indirect" effects of discrimination, in addition to its direct effects (Stangor et al., 2003). That is, discrimination's direct effects occur whether the target realizes it or not. ...
... For example, if a supervisor withholds a promotion from a pregnant woman, her workplace advancement and material resources decrease no matter how she labels that treatment. But many outcomes are indirect and depend on whether the worker experiences and labels their treatment as discriminatory (Stangor et al., 2003). Self-report data shows that those who label their treatment as discriminatory experience unambiguously negative consequences for mental and physical wellbeing (Jones et al., 2016;Lewis et al. 2015;Phelan and Link 2015;Schmitt et al., 2014), as well as work attachment and intentions to leave their current job (Jones et al., 2016). ...
Employers use ideologically-tinged rhetoric to justify workplace discrimination. We argue that workers will be less likely to label biased treatment against them as discriminatory when they subscribe to those ideologies as well. We tested this prediction and the consequences of labeling for work attitudes and performance using an experiment that assigned parents to a low-status position in a work group, varying whether the decision invoked biased, ideological assumptions about parenthood. As expected, ideology drove mothers' (but not fathers’) labeling. Mothers were less likely to label biased treatment against them as discriminatory when they were conservative and when they subscribed to separate spheres and ideal worker ideologies. Mothers who labeled their treatment as discriminatory had more negative work attitudes than those who did not, but also tended to appeal the decision. Ideology thus shapes whether people label discrimination when it occurs as well as their subsequent work attitudes and justice-seeking behaviors.
... For instance, Hyers (1999, see also Woodzicka &LaFrance, 2001) found that although women predicted that they would directly confront a man who targeted them with several sexist comments, a majority of women actually did not confront when they experienced this situation in an experimental setting. Related research around this time showed that the main conundrum faced by targets of bias is that, although they wanted to confront, they feared being perceived as complainers and hypersensitive (Stangor et al., 2003;Stangor, Swim, Van Allen, & Sechrist, 2002). ...
Self-confrontation, whereby people become aware of their responses being more biased than their personal standards condone, triggers self-regulation and bias reduction. However, impediments to self-confrontation reduces its occurrence. Other-confrontation, where someone points other another person's biased responses with disapproval, provides an antidote. Research has identified confrontees' reactions and associated moderators, but in a largely descriptive manner. We propose a theoretical framework capturing consequences of other-confrontation for confrontees. The confrontee's perceived validity of the confrontation determines whether they evaluate their response based on their personal standards, which prompts negative self-directed affect and bias reduction. Simultaneously, the confrontee's perception that the confronter is trying to impugn their egalitarian and non-prejudiced image triggers negative other-directed affect and, in turn, the confrontee's generation of social costs (e.g., dislike for the confronter). Moderators affecting bias reduction and social costs operate through their influence on people's answers to the perceived validity and impugnment questions.
... On the other hand, compared to sexism awareness, perspective-taking had more robust overall effects on increasing both men's and women's perceptions of institutional sexism by increasing their tendency to side with the plaintiff and their recommended sanctions against the company. Recognition of sexism is the first critical step in being able to confront sexism or support someone else confronting sexism (Ashburn-Nardo et al., 2008;Drury & Kaiser, 2014;Stangor et al., 2003). Therefore, perspective-taking may be an optimal strategy when the goal is to increase recognition of institutional gender discrimination in order to effect change. ...
Women are more likely than men to perceive institutional sexism. In the present study, we examined the gender gap in perceptions of a legal case in which a female plaintiff claims she was a victim of institutional gender discrimination by an employer. Participants were randomly assigned to receive information about institutional forms of sexism (or not) prior to learning the facts of the case. In addition, participants were randomly assigned to take the female plaintiff's perspective (or remain objective) while reviewing the case. In isolation, sexism awareness and perspective-taking both independently eliminated the gender gap in perceptions of discrimination. However, contrary to expectations, the gender gap reemerged among participants who were made aware of sexism prior to perspective-taking such that women perceived more discrimination than men. Implications for interventions to increase perceptions of institutional sexism are discussed.
... The stressors related with social identity are a unique type, quite different from non-bias-related stressors, and with severe consequences for health (Bey et al., 2019). When bias and prejudice are conceptualized and broadly categorized as racism or homophobia, for example, this may hide important differences between group members since some of them may experience more prejudice and discrimination than others (Stangor et al., 2003). To explain this variability, research has focused on individual, situational, and structural factors. ...
Despite the growing number of bias-motivated violence studies, the evidence available remains limited, and there are several gaps in our understanding of the complex relationship between negative attitudes and biased violence. In addition, the literature on this topic has many facets and nuances and is often contradictory, so it is difficult to obtain a clear overall picture. Research has made good progress in this area, but it still suffers from a lack of systematization and from a highly segmented approach to victimization and offending. To contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the subject, this integrative narrative review provides a critical reappraisal of the theoretical, methodological, and empirical research from a systemic perspective. To this end, 134 academic publications on personality and social psychology, clinical psychology, sociology, criminology, and related disciplines were examined. The evidence suggests that although bias-motivated violence shares characteristics with other types of offensive behavior, it is actually a unique phenomenon due to its background rooted in prejudice, identity, and attitudes in which the intersection of individual, psychosocial, and ecological factors is especially relevant. The impact on the victim and their community is diverse, but it has a series of distinctive severe psychological consequences that significantly reduce the probability that incidents will be reported. Here, we present a series of findings and reflections on bias-motivated violence and provide recommendations for research, practice, and policy.
... Over the past 20 years, research in social psychology has described two different responses to discrimination: vigilance, or being inclined to identify ambiguous or nondiscriminatory experiences as discrimination, and minimizing, or the tendency to overlook genuine instances of discrimination as not truly discriminatory (Kaiser & Major, 2006). An individual's social context (i.e., prior experiences of racism and discrimination) has been shown to engender a vigilance response (Stangor et al., 2003). Under this model, young Black and Hispanic men growing up in the culture of the 1950s and 1960s would be more likely to identify wartime events (e.g., a dangerous unit assignment) as evidence of racial discrimination even if, objectively, no such discrimination had occurred. ...
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Kadınlar günlük yaşamlarında cinsiyetçiliğin birçok farklı türüne maruz kalır. Kadınların cinsiyetçiliği fark etme düzeyleri ve verdikleri tepkiler farklılık gösterebilir. Kadınların verdikleri bu farklı tepkiler ise kendilerinin veya cinsiyetçiliğin değişmesini farklı şekillerde etkiler. Bu tarama makalesinin amacı kadınların cinsiyetçiliğe karşı tepkilerine ilişkin alanyazın araştırmalarının cinsiyetçilik farkındalığı düşük/yüksek ve cinsiyetçiliğe tepki vermede pasif/aktif olma boyutları kapsamında derlenmesidir. Alanyazında belirtilen tepkiler cinsiyetçilik farkındalığını içerecek şekilde pasif olarak var olanı kabul etme ve onaylama durumundan aktif olarak kolektif hareketlere katılmaya kadar dört ana başlık altında sunulmuştur. Bunlar (1) cinsiyetçilik farkındalığı olmayıp ya da farkındalığı düşük olup, var olan cinsiyet sistemini olduğu gibi kabullenme ve meşrulaştırma; (2) cinsiyetçilik farkındalığı olup, cinsiyetçiliğe ilişkin olumsuz duygular yaşasa bile harekete geçmeyip kendini suskunlaştırma; (3) cinsiyetçilik farkındalığı olup, cinsiyetçi tutum ve davranışlara karşı koyma yani cinsiyetçilikle yüzleşme; ve (4) cinsiyetçilik farkındalığı olup, kolektif hareketlerde bulunma şeklinde ele alınmıştır. Cinsiyetçiliği kabullenme ve meşrulaştırma, kendini suskunlaştırma, cinsiyetçilikle yüzleşme ve kolektif hareketler olarak ele alınan bu dört ana tepkiyi etkileyen unsurlar olarak sosyal baskınlık, sistemi meşrulaştırma, sağ kanat yetkecilik, reddedilme hassasiyeti, cinsiyetçiliğin türü, failin tanıdıklığı, ortamın özellikleri, ödül-bedel algısı, kadın kimliğiyle özdeşleşme ve adaletsizlik algısı vb. ele alınmış ve ilgili ana başlıklar altında sunulmuştur. Son olarak, bu dört farklı tepkinin kadınlar üzerindeki bireysel ve grup temelli olası olumlu veya olumsuz çıktıları ele alınmıştır.
Early news coverage of COVID-19 influenced public suspicions of Asians as being the origin and carriers of the disease, and stigmatizing and racist terms (e.g., “Kung flu”, “Chinese virus”, “Wuhan virus”) have been improperly used to refer to the virus. The racist rhetoric, accompanied by increasing verbal and physical attacks, has impacted the lives of Asian Americans during the pandemic. The present study investigates targeted Asian Americans’ communication responding to the aggressors of COVID-19 racism in application of co-cultural communication theory. Targeted individuals’ characteristics and previous experience of racial discrimination are tested as determinants of such communicative responses. Data come from 242 Asians across the U.S. who reported having experienced racism during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the three identified types of communication responses, the nonassertive approach was used most intensively by Asian Americans in responding to COVID-19 racism, followed by the assertive and aggressive ones. Salient ethnic identity and previous discrimination experience were associated with a higher level of nonassertive and a lower level of aggressive approach. Males were more likely to practice assertive approaches. Our findings contribute to the extension of the co-cultural communication framework in explaining Asian Americans’ communicative responses to pandemic-fueled racism.
Three studies examine how women’s benevolent sexism (BS) shapes support for other women’s agentic responses to gender‐based threat. In Study 1, women read vignettes about a woman who agentically responded (vs. no response) to gender‐based threat (e.g., sexism). As hypothesized, BS predicted more positive attitudes towards the woman who chose not to challenge sexism and more negative attitudes towards the woman who did. Studies 2 and 3 focused on whether these effects are driven by the behaviour displayed by the target (response or not) or by the ideology it seeks to uphold (traditional or non‐traditional). There may be circumstances under which BS is associated with positive attitudes towards women’s agentic (i.e., non‐gender role conforming) behaviour, for instance, when it is used to support traditional gender roles. Studies 2 and 3 showed that when women’s agentic behaviour is used to uphold traditional gender roles (vs. challenge them), BS is positively associated with support for such behaviour. These findings underscore the importance of ideology underlying women’s agentic behaviour: BS can support women’s agentic responses that violate prescribed gender roles, so long as they reinforce the status quo. Please see the project's OSF page at for materials and data.
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Individuals diagnosed with mental illness (PWMI) continue to encounter stigma and discrimination under various circumstances and these negatively affect them. The purpose of this study was to describe the role both personal and public factors play in bringing about stigma among participants in Ghana. All the interviews were conducted in English. Thematic content analysis revealed different public behaviors such as social isolation, discrimination, mocking, labeling and gossips, as disturbing, the participants were also found to stigmatize themselves based on some personal characteristics. PWMI would therefore need support from all sectors including families, friends, employers, the Ministry of health and its subsidiary the Ghana health service, and the general public in order to be able to overcome stigma and the effects associated with it.
Although many researchers have suggested that racial discrimination has a negative impact on Black mental health, there are few empirical investigations of that possibility. The authors examined the relative contributions of racial discrimination, status variables, and ordinary stressors to symptoms among 520 Black adults. Results revealed that racial discrimination contributed significantly to symptoms and accounted for 15% of the variance in total symptoms.
Stereotype research emphasizes systematic processes over seemingly arbitrary contents, but content also may prove systematic. On the basis of stereotypes' intergroup functions, the stereotype content model hypothesizes that (a) 2 primary dimensions are competence and warmth, (b) frequent mixed clusters combine high warmth with low competence (paternalistic) or high competence with low warmth (envious), and (c) distinct emotions (pity, envy, admiration, contempt) differentiate the 4 competence-warmth combinations. Stereotypically, (d) status predicts high competence, and competition predicts low warmth. Nine varied samples rated gender, ethnicity, race, class, age, and disability out-groups. Contrary to antipathy models, 2 dimensions mattered, and many stereotypes were mixed, either pitying (low competence, high warmth subordinates) or envying (high competence, low warmth competitors). Stereotypically, status predicted competence, and competition predicted low warmth.
Each of 72 professional personnel consultants rated the suitability of one bogus applicant for selected masculine, feminine, and neuter jobs, and for alternatives to employment. Each resume was identical with the exception of the systematic variation of the applicant's sex and the omission or inclusion of a photo depicting the applicant as physically attractive or unattractive. As predicted, personnel decisions strongly reflected the operation of sex-role stereotypes as well as sex-relevant and sex-irrelevant attractiveness stereotypes. These factors similarly affected consultants' recommendations of alternatives to employment and consultants' causal attributions of applicants' projected occupational successes and failures. Sex-role typing provides a significant example of the powerful effects of stereotypes in the expansion and restriction of alternatives of expression and action available to men and to women in our society (Bern, 197S; Block, von der Lippe, & Block, 1973; Broverman, Vogel, Broverman, Clarkson, & Rosenkrantz, 1972). The influence of sex-role stereotypes on both access and employee treatment is centrally important to sex discrimination in employment, a practice prohibited by Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, The social sciences have begun to systematically examine sex discrimination in a number of settings, both naturalistic and experimental. The greatest amount of research has assessed discrimination against females in traditionally masculine, that is, male-dominated, occupations. Men have been evaluated more favorably than women for writing journal articles (Goldberg, 1968), for painting pictures (Pheterson, Kiesler, & Goldberg, 1971), and for
Peripheral membership status in a desirable ingroup was predicted to elevate outgroup derogation when Ss believed other ingroup members might learn of their responses. Less negativity toward outgroups was expected when peripheral members' responses were to remain private. Core ingroup members, in contrast, were not expected to show public-private differences in derogation of out-groups. The results of 2 experiments supported these predictions, with peripheral but not core ingroup members advocating the most coercion for the outgroup under public conditions in both laboratory-created ingroups (Experiment 1) and naturally occurring groups that had meaning for the participants (Experiment 2). Thus, outgroup derogation can serve a public presentation function that allows for enhancement of an insecure status within a desirable ingroup.
Part I. From There to Here - Theoretical Background: 1. From visiousness to viciousness: theories of intergroup relations 2. Social dominance theory as a new synthesis Part II. Oppression and its Psycho-Ideological Elements: 3. The psychology of group dominance: social dominance orientation 4. Let's both agree that you're really stupid: the power of consensual ideology Part III. The Circle of Oppression - The Myriad Expressions of Institutional Discrimination: 5. You stay in your part of town and I'll stay in mine: discrimination in the housing and retail markets 6. They're just too lazy to work: discrimination in the labor market 7. They're just mentally and physically unfit: discrimination in education and health care 8. The more of 'them' in prison, the better: institutional terror, social control and the dynamics of the criminal justice system Part IV. Oppression as a Cooperative Game: 9. Social hierarchy and asymmetrical group behavior: social hierarchy and group difference in behavior 10. Sex and power: the intersecting political psychologies of patriarchy and empty-set hierarchy 11. Epilogue.
Campus racial harassment provided the context for an experiment, replicated over 3 different campus samples, regarding the effects of social influence on Whites' reactions to racism. Hearing some-one condemn racism led Ss to express significantly stronger antiracist opinions than occurred following exposure to a no-influence control condition. Furthermore, hearing someone condone racism led Ss to adopt significantly less strong antiracist positions than when no other opinions were introduced. The robust social influence effects were obtained regardless of whether the source was White or Black or whether Ss responded publicly or privately. A social context approach to interracial settings is discussed.