Constructing Bias: Conceptualization Breaks the Link Between Implicit Bias and Fear of Black Americans

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Abstract

Negative affect toward outgroup members has long been known to predict discriminatory behavior. However, psychological constructionist theories of emotion suggest that negative affect may not always reflect antipathy for outgroup members. Rather, the subjective experience depends on how negative affect is conceptualized as specific discrete emotions (e.g., fear vs. sympathy). Our current research integrates theories of implicit bias with psychological constructionist theories of emotion to understand the implications of negative affect toward outgroup members. Across 3 studies, we find evidence that conceptualization of negative affect toward Black Americans as sympathy, rather than fear, mitigates the relationship between negative affect and fear of Black Americans on self-report and perceptual measures, and reduces racial bias on a psychophysiological measure. These studies provide evidence that conceptualization of negative affect can shape reactions to outgroup members. We discuss the implications of these findings and ground them in theories of implicit bias, social cognition, and affective science.

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