For some people, interacting with individuals from other races creates anxiety. This type of impairment can make it difficult for some people to engage in social situations. Increased levels of anxiety can cause an individual to inaccurately perceive the emotional expressions of those around them, resulting in misunderstandings and disagreements. This form of intergroup anxiety may also cause other negative outcomes, such as discrimination or bias. This bias is difficult to disengage once activated and can lead to negative responses and behaviors. To determine if social anxiety caused by interracial interactions can cause bias or discrimination, David M. Amodio of the Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science at New York University conducted an experiment involving black and white participants.
Amodio enlisted 38 white college students for his study and assigned them to an interaction with either a black or white partner. The participants were evaluated by experimenters as they interacted with their partners and were assessed for levels of anxiety and racial bias. The study revealed that levels of intergroup anxiety were higher in the participants who knew they would be meeting with a black partner than in those meeting with a white partner. The interracial participants exhibited levels of racial bias, although implicitly not explicitly. However, they did not appear to stereotype their partners.
There was a direct relationship between anxiety and racial bias in the participants matched with black partners. Amodio believes these findings suggest that intergroup anxiety increases the likelihood of evaluative bias. In this study, the results clearly support that even though the bias was implicit. Amodio considers these findings significant as intergroup relations can be impacted in a variety of ways as the result of anxiety, and this demonstration of implicit racial bias is just one more way in which these relations can be impaired. He added, “This finding highlights the critical interactive effects of emotion and implicit processes and sheds new light on how implicit racial biases may operate in real-life intergroup situations.”
Amodio, D. M., Hamilton, H. K. (2012). Intergroup anxiety effects on implicit racial evaluation and stereotyping. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029016
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