Reframing Anxiety to Encourage Interracial Interactions

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Racial bias against Black Americans is a continuing problem in the United States. Although interracial dialogue is generally accepted as an effective method to combat racial bias, such dialogues are often avoided because they can make White Americans anxious and are accompanied by negative outcomes. Therefore, in the present study, we tested a simple intervention designed to (a) increase Whites’ willingness to choose to enter a situation in which they would interact with a Black partner and (b) reduce the negative outcomes typically found in these interactions. One hundred fifty-seven White participants were randomly assigned to have a conversation with an interaction partner on one of two topics, racial discrimination or sexual identity discrimination. They were further assigned to one of two groups: an intervention group or a control group. The intervention group was told that people tend to avoid interracial interactions because these interactions are anxiety provoking but that choosing instead to approach interracial interactions may help to reduce future feelings of anxiety. The control group received no such guidance. Results demonstrated that, compared to the control group, participants in the intervention group were more likely to choose to interact with a Black partner over a White partner and showed more positive nonverbal engagement during the interracial interaction. We discuss the implications of this work for the development of strategies to increase Whites’ engagement in interracial dialogue.

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