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To understand more about prejudice and how to reduce negative reactions because of it, here I’ll discuss a journal “Treating” Prejudice: An Exposure Therapy Approach to Reducing Negative Reactions Toward Stigmatized Groups. The idea of this experiment is from exposure therapy. It is used to treat patients with anxiety disorders. In this therapy, patients will be exposed with “a fear-evoking stimulus within a safe environment before encouraging more positive stimulus-related thoughts”. Let’s say you’re afraid of snakes. With exposure therapy, a therapist will expose you with a snake itself. This approach has been found effective to treat patients with anxiety associated with the phobic stimulus.
Birtel and Crisp conducted three experiments. In each experiment, participants were randomly assigned to be in one of two conditions. In first group participants were asked to imagine two positive (positive-then-positive) contact situations with stigmatized groups (adults with schizophrenia, gay men, and British Muslims). In other group, participants were asked to imagine negative-then-positive contact situations. After that they were measured their intergroup anxiety.
Anxiety was measured because research has shown that anxiety is the most robustly supported determinant of prejudice. From many research that were discussed in this journal, it can be concluded if you can reduce anxiety, it means you can reduce prejudice toward other people.
Participants in positive-positive condition were first asked, “Please take a moment to imagine yourself meeting an adult with schizophrenia (experiment 1), a gay man (experiment 2), a British Muslim (experiment 3) for the first time. Imagine that the interaction is positive, relaxed, and comfortable.” While participants in negative-positive condition were asked, “Please take a moment to imagine yourself meeting an adult with schizophrenia (experiment 1), a gay man (experiment 2), a British Muslim (experiment 3) for the first time. Imagine that the interaction is negative, tense, and uncomfortable.” Then they were asked to write down what they imagined as much detail as possible before completing Intergroup Anxiety Scale (Stephan & Stephan, 1985).
Next, participants in both conditions were asked the same question, “Please take a moment to imagine yourself meeting an adult with schizophrenia (experiment 1), a gay man (experiment 2), a British Muslim (experiment 3) for the first time. Imagine that the interaction is positive, relaxed, and comfortable.” Again they were instructed to write down what they imagined as much detail as possible before completing an intergroup anxiety measure.
All experiments showed the same result as Birtel and Crisp discussed:
In Experiment 1, participants without mental health problems imagined a positive encounter with an adult with schizophrenia after having imagined a negative encounter. Participants reported less intergroup anxiety compared with participants who imagined two positive encounters. In Experiment 2, heterosexual male participants imagined a positive encounter with a gay man after having imagined a negative encounter. These participants experienced less intergroup anxiety, which mediated enhanced future contact intentions, compared with participants who imagined two imagined positive contact experiences. In Experiment 3, British non-Muslim participants who imagined a negative encounter with a British Muslim before imagining a positive one reported greater future contact intentions toward British Muslims compared with participants who engaged in a single positive imaginal encounter, a tendency mediated by the development of more positive feelings toward the previously stigmatized group.
I found this result is interesting. To be honest, at first I thought if we're given positive stimulus then our anxiety toward other people will be reduced. From these experiment showed us that negativity is not that bad. Just like Birtel and Crisp wrote:
We found that when it comes to promoting positive group perceptions, negativity is not all bad, and that, a small dose of negativity administered just prior to a positively focused intervention can be surprisingly effective in reducing prejudice toward stigmatized groups.
Hopefully after reading this journal we can educate ourselves about prejudice and we can do something to stop it. The least we can do is not to have it in ourselves.
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Birtel, M. D., & Crisp, R. J. (2012). "Treating" prejudice: An exposure therapy approach to reducing negative reactions to stigmatized groups. Psychological Science, 23, 1379-1386.