Taking Perspective: A Theory of Prejudice Reduction and Political Attitudes

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This dissertation develops and tests Engagement, Perspective-Taking, and Re-calibration (EPR), a theory of how to reduce prejudice and its consequences on political attitudes. I theorize that an intervention that uses engagement to encourage perspective-taking reduces prejudice and re-calibrates the subject’s attribution of blame for America’s racial problems. This last step, “re-calibration,” shifts the target of blame from out-group members to the forces of racism and discrimination which alters political attitudes rooted in prejudice. I employ my theory of EPR to develop interventions to reduce anti-Black prejudice among U.S. citizens using online perspective-taking tasks. The interventions encourage participants to adopt the perspective of an African American individual who experiences racial prejudice and make choices regarding how to respond to the bias they encounter. Interventions designed according to EPR theory were evaluated in three randomized experiments in which participants completed either the perspective-taking treatment or a placebo task. I find that participation in the perspective-taking task significantly reduces multiple forms of racial prejudice including racial resentment, negative affect, and belief in anti-Black stereotypes. The largest effects were among those with the highest levels of baseline prejudice. These studies also show that reducing prejudice increases support for policies that would help African Americans, including government assistance to Blacks, additional changes to ensure racial equality, affirmative action, and reparations for slavery. Similarly, reducing prejudice increases support for the belief that Blacks are not treated fairly in American society, increases support for policing reforms, and increases support for the Black Lives Matter protests against police violence. My results demonstrate that a substantial amount of opposition to racial policies is rooted in racial animus. But neither animus nor opposition to racial policies are immutable, reducing prejudice through my technique increases support for policies to redress racial inequities. This dissertation offers two empirically evaluated interventions that may be used as low-cost bias reduction trainings to combat the rising hate-related incidents in the United States. More broadly, my results provide insight into the nature of racial prejudice and its impact on political attitudes.