Sensitization to ego-threat, self-reflection, and self-perceived aversive racism
Ybaben, Marc A.
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It has been suggested that critical self-ref lection introduces a self-deprecating attributional bias that undermines one's positive self-attributes. Previous research has demonstrated this effect on both self- perceived altruism and self-perceived aversive racism. The present study is an attempt to determine the role that prior desensitization or sensitization to potentially ego-threatening information plays in the process of critical self-reflection. Prior to making a normative, non-discriminatory decision to work with a black male student on a problem-solving task, white male subjects were exposed to normative information intended to desensitize or sensitize them to potential ego-threat. Subjects then reflected on their reasons for choosing to work with the black, their reasons for being non- prejudiced, or their reasons for a decision unrelated to racism. Critical self-ref lection and the resulting higher levels of self-perceived aversive racism were predicted to occur only when desensitized subjects reflected on why they acted positively toward a black or on why they were non-prejudiced persons; therefore, an interaction was predicted between the Sensitization and Reflection conditions. Responses on the dependent measure of aversive racism were analyzed with a 2 (Sensitization) x 4 (Reflection) analysis of variance (ANOVA). The ANOVA revealed a nonsignificant interaction, and none of the predicted differences achieved conventional levels of statistical significance, but responses on the dependent measure in most of the cells patterned as predicted. In the desensitization condition, subjects who reflected on their reasons for choosing to work with a black student reported higher levels of perceived aversive racism than did control subjects, and subjects who did not reflect on their reasons reported lower levels of perceived aversive racism than controls. In the sensitization condition, it was predicted, and appeared to be the case, that because of their prior sensitization to potential ego-threat, subjects would be more defensive when considering their non-discriminatory behavior toward a black, and would thus report lower scores on the dependent measure. When desensitized to potential ego-threat, critically reflecting on one's reasons for acting prosocially produced an indication of a self-deprecating bias, but individual differences may have obscured the magnitude of the overall effect.