Monday, November 21, 2016

The social psychology of prejudice in the Trump era

This column by social psychologist Chris Crandall should be on your reading list at some point this week, if you have not already seen it. Part of what makes the article useful to me is that Crandall and his colleagues at University of Kansas conducted a study in which they contacted 200 Trump supporters and 200 Clinton supporters and asked them about a wide variety of questions, including questions regarding attitudes toward a variety of groups that Trump has insulted over the course of his campaign, including persons with disabilities, Latinos (more specifically those from Mexico), Muslims, immigrants, and people who might be classified as overweight. Half were asked to rate their own views about these groups and the other half were asked what they thought others' attitudes toward these groups were. What was interesting was that participants showed a shift in negative attitudes toward people in these categories - not only by Trump supporters but also Clinton supporters as well - after Trump was named President-Elect. Their perception of the social norms had shifted, and so too had their expressed attitudes.

As Crandall notes, this is certainly not the only example of an experimental study showing a normative shift, but it is one very applicable to our own particular circumstances in the US. It appears that after decades of effort to cultivate more favorable attitudes toward inclusiveness, we are witnessing just how fragile those efforts have been. As a social psychologist who studies aggression, I can see how the shift in attitudes we are now witnessing could have some significant blowback in the coming months and years. What we study in the lab as social psychologists will become even more important and applicable than ever in the years to come. There is much work to be done, and shared with the public.

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