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The Self and Attitudes Lab

Room 516

Psychology Department

University of Arizona


The research in the self and attitudes lab at the University of Arizona focuses on the relationship between how we think and feel about our self and our evaluations of people and other objects in our social world.  We examine the relationship between the self and attitudes by investigating the following questions:


Basic and Translational Processes in Stereotyping


            Investigating basic and translational processes in stereotyping is an important component of our research. We recently received an R01 from the National Institute for Minority Health and Disparities at NIH to conduct research on the role of implicit stereotyping of Hispanic patients (#MD005902-01A1). Our research is designed to achieve two goals:  First, examine if medical and nursing students hold conscious and unconscious negative stereotypes that Hispanic patients do not comply with prevention and treatment recommendations, and second, to develop and test new approaches to training medical and nursing students, and Hispanic patients, to reduce the influence of implicit stereotyping in health service delivery (Stone & Moskowitz, 2011).

            Using contemporary subliminal priming methods, we recently published a paper showing that white doctors hold explicit and implicit stereotypes about African American patients (Moskowitz, Stone & Childs, 2012). The first set of studies in our funded research (Bean, Stone, Moskowitz, Badger, & Focella, in prep) found that over 90% of medical and nursing students reported explicit stereotypes about Hispanic patients related to noncompliance (e.g., lazy, noncompliant, no follow-up). A second study showed that medical and nursing students were faster to recognize words related to noncompliance after being subliminally primed with a Hispanic face compared with a White face. The next set of studies will examine if implicit activation of noncompliance-related stereotypes about Hispanic patients influences a treatment decision. We will also develop and test the effectiveness of an innovative workshop to teach medical and nursing students strategies for controlling implicit bias when they interact with minority patients. Our approach is based on our research showing that activating egalitarian goals attenuates implicit stereotyping (Moskowitz, Li, Ignnari & Stone, 2010; Moskowitz & Stone, in press) and on the workshops on implicit bias that I have taught for different organizations on our campus and around the Tucson area.


What can members of a stigmatized group do to reduce the prejudices and stereotypes held by others?


            A new line of research in our lab seeks to fill a void in social psychology's understanding of prejudice reduction processes: What can a stigmatized individual do to reduce a health care provider’s prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination when they seek care?  Understanding how stigmatized targets can play an active role in the prejudice reduction process is limited because most prejudice reduction research has examined the effectiveness of a given strategy when implemented through a controlled manipulation of the social context by a third party.  Consequently, little is known about how effectively stigmatized individuals can use attitude and belief change processes to reduce the biases held by others. 

            In collaboration with Dr. Toni Schmader and graduate student Jessica Whitehead, I have developed the Target Empowerment Model (or TEM) to describe the nature of prejudice reduction when stigmatized targets take an active role as influence agents.  The research examines two questions:  (1) what strategies do the members of stigmatized groups want to use when attempting to change a biased perceiver, and (2) what strategies are effective for achieving change?  Our research on these questions is currently funded by a grant from the Social Psychology program at the National Science Foundation.  

            What strategies do targets want to use?  There is very little research on the prejudice reduction goals and strategies that stigmatized individuals employ when they interact with biased individuals.  Most of the research has focused on confrontation as the strategy of choice (e.g., Czopp & Monteith, 2006), but other strategies may be more desirable and effective, depending on the goals that targets have for the interaction.  In a recent study (Schmader , Croft, Whitehead & Stone, in prep) we asked gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) individuals to imagine interacting with a biased individual and to report what prejudice reduction goals they would try to achieve.  We also described 25 different prejudice reduction strategies and asked which they would attempt to use to reach their goals during the interaction.  Results showed that targets preferred to use strategies like recategorization and affirmation to serve their individual goals of being liked and having a smooth interaction, over the use of more direct strategies like confrontation or presenting counter-stereotyping information to reduce bias against them.

            What strategies work when used by a target individual?  Our recent NSF funded research indicates there are prejudice reduction strategies that stigmatized targets can use to reduce stereotyping and discrimination when they interact with someone who is biased against their group.  According to the TEM, when a target and biased perceiver interact, categorization of the target as a member of a disliked group will cue feelings of threat about the interaction, which in turn, activate processes that make the perceiver highly resistant to changing negative attitudes and beliefs about the target and his or her group.  However, the TEM maintains that targets can successfully circumvent prejudiced perceivers defenses and reduce their biases by using a two-step influence strategy during the interaction.  Specifically, targets can initially reduce the defenses of a highly prejudiced individual by using a "Subtle TEM strategy."   Subtle TEM strategies like self-affirmation or recategorization are relatively simple strategies that require low processing effort, provide positive heuristics, and are easy to deliver through priming.  They may operate outside of awareness to reduce explicit counterargument and other processes that promote resistance to change, and as a result, encourage more objective information processing, which subsequently opens the door for the use of a "Blatant TEM strategy" in the second step of the influence process.  Blatant strategies, like recategorization, value-confrontation, hypocrisy, or multi-cultural education, generally require perceivers to "engage" with the target, either by carefully thinking about the merits of an anti-bias message or by complying with a request from the target that is designed to initiate change.  Because blatant strategies work by inducing positive elaboration and "self-persuasion", they tend to cause longer-lasting changes in attitudes and behavior and are more likely to generalize to the target’s group.  The TEM model predicts that stigmatized targets can use blatant strategies to promote relatively long-term change, but only if they first use a subtle strategy to lower the defenses and resistance of highly prejudiced individuals during the interaction.    

            Our recent work examined the use of recategorization and self-affirmation TEM strategies by a stigmatized target to reduce bias in a hiring context (Schmader , Croft, Whitehead & Stone, under review).  In one experiment, heterosexual males evaluated applications for a job in advertising, including one application ostensibly from a gay male.  In one condition, the gay target included a statement designed to induce recategorization processes (e.g., “One great thing about Americans is our ability to come together in times of need”).  The results showed that the use of this subtle TEM recategorization strategy caused participants to select the qualified gay applicant for an interview more often compared to when the gay applicant’s statement did not use a recategorization strategy.  The positive effect of the recategorization strategy on the decision to interview the gay applicant was significantly mediated by more positive attitudes and impressions of the gay applicant. 

            In another series of studies, we examined the effectiveness of a subtle self-affirmation strategy for reducing bias towards Arab-Americans and women (Stone, Whitehead, Schmader & Focella, 2011).  In one study, we found that when an Arab American male posted a perspective-taking statement on his MySpace page, highly prejudiced individuals were more likely to negatively stereotype him, and less likely to want to interact with him, compared to when the target did not attempt to address bias.  However, if the Arab-American male first asked questions designed to prime positive self-affirming values and self-beliefs, highly prejudiced individuals were less likely to stereotype him, and were more favorable toward meeting him, compared to when he used a more confrontational perspective taking strategy.  In another study, we found that when a female presented herself as counter-stereotypic to a male interviewer, she was rated as competent but dislikable.  However, when she first asked positive questions designed to self-affirm the interviewer, she was perceived as both competent and likeable.  These data support the TEM prediction that using a subtle affirmation strategy can reduce the defensiveness that biased perceivers otherwise feel when interacting with a member of a disliked group.      

            My students and I are currently investigating boundary conditions and the processes by which other TEM strategies (e.g., presenting counter-stereotypic attributes; telling a group-effacing joke) can reduce bias when used by a stigmatized target. Our current NIH grant supports studies to test how a Hispanic patient's use of different TEM strategies during their interaction with medical professionals can deactivate the implicit biases that may impact a health care decision.


Does feeling like a hypocrite change our future behavior?


            Our lab also investigates the motivational implications of an act of “hypocrisy.”  We investigate feelings of hypocrisy by inducing participants to make a public advocacy about conducting an important pro-social behavior, such as using condoms to prevent AIDS, exercising regularly, or volunteerism.  Note that by itself, the advocacy is consistent with most people's beliefs about the issue, and should not by itself cause any discomfort.  However, when participants are made mindful that they themselves have not performed the behavior regularly in the past, the discrepancy between their advocacy and past behavior causes the discomfort associated with dissonance arousal.  We predict that to reduce their discomfort, hypocrites become motivated to "practice what they preach."  That is, they should bring their own behavior into line with their “preaching” about the importance of performing the target behavior to others. 

            We have used feelings of hypocrisy successfully to motivate people to perform a variety of prosocial behaviors including those related to health.  For example, an induction of hypocrisy about practicing safer sex motivated participants to reduce dissonance by increasing their intentions to use condoms (Aronson, Fried, & Stone, 1991) and by motivating more participants to purchase condoms following the study (Stone et al., 1994).  In another series of experiments (Stone et al., 1997) we showed that when provided a choice between a reduction strategy that resolved the hypocritical discrepancy directly, and another strategy that could affirm the self on an unrelated dimension, participants chose the strategy that restored self-integrity directly.  A second experiment showed that participants chose the direct resolution of their hypocritical discrepancy even when they had the opportunity to affirm the self on a more important self-concept dimension.  This suggests that when dissonance is aroused, the motive to uphold specific standards may supersede a more general motive for affirmation of the global self. 

            In a recent review of the hypocrisy literature generated by my early work (Stone & Fernandez, 2008), we identified 20 replications of the effect of hypocrisy on a behavior related to health, the environment, and interpersonal relationships.  The results of these studies indicate that people are most likely to perform the target behavior when they publically advocate the target behavior and then are privately made mindful of past recent failures to perform the behavior.  We examined the cross-cultural effectiveness of the procedure, and also discussed the need for future research on the role of attitudes toward the target behavior, autobiographical recall for past failures, and other variables that moderate and mediate the effect of hypocrisy on behavior change. 

            Our recent empirical research focuses on changing attitudes and behaviors directly related to the risk of cancer. In one line of work (Stone & Fernandez, 2011), we examined how many past failures must hypocrites recall in order to feel dissonance. Using a self-validation framework, this study found that when elaboration about past failures to use sunscreen was low, more young adult hypocrites acquired sunscreen after recalling 8 compared to 2 past failures.  However, when elaboration about past failures was high, more hypocrites acquired sunscreen after recalling 2 compared to 8 past failures. Another line of work examines the process by which observing an ingroup member act hypocritically about the use of sunscreen can cause highly identified group members to experience dissonance and become more favorable toward the use of sunscreen (Focella, Stone, Fernandez, Cooper, & Hogg, under review).  We predict that when highly identified in-group members hold positive attitudes toward using sunscreen, but then learn that an in-group member has been hypocritical about her use of sunscreen, ingroup observers experience a sense of “vicarious” dissonance.  To reduce their dissonance, in-group members should be motivated to restore the integrity of the in-group by bolstering their attitudes and behavior toward the use of sunscreen.  In one experiment, we found that when exposed to a hypocritical female in-group member, female observers who were highly identified with the in-group speaker reported more favorable attitudes toward using sunscreen compared to highly identified males, and compared to females exposed to an out-group hypocrite.  A second experiment replicated and extended this finding by showing that the effect of vicarious hypocrisy on attitude bolstering was attenuated when their in-group identity, but not their female identity, was affirmed before exposure to the in-group hypocrite.  These studies suggest a new way to use hypocrisy in a mass media approach for changing health behavior.  

            We continue to document the causes and consequences of hypocrisy for health behavior.  For example, if we distinguish between motivating the initiation of a new behavior and motivating the maintenance of a new behavior (Rothman, 2000), then it is important to examine the impact of hypocrisy at different stages or steps in the process of behavior change.  Whereas the current body of research suggests that the procedure is effective for motivating people who have a high degree of health literacy to initiate a new health behavior, we need to examine whether hypocrisy can be used to motivate people to improve their health literacy about cancer prevention behaviors.  In addition, we need to look more systematically at how the prevention strategy can be effective for motivating the maintenance of a new health behavior over time.  


How does self-esteem influence reactions to unwise, immoral or surprising behavior?


            Conventional wisdom suggests that raising self-esteem makes people less vulnerable to personal failure, interpersonal rejection and other discrepancies.  However, research in social psychology has shown that whereas high self-esteem provides some resiliency against discrepancies, it also, under some conditions, causes stronger self-serving distortions and a propensity to respond to criticism or rejection with aggression.  Moreover, research indicates that people with low self-esteem, under some conditions, embrace criticism and seek out people who chastise or reject them. 

            Research in our lab has developed a new theoretical framework for understanding the seemingly paradoxical role of self-esteem in social behavior.  Our approach focuses on the defensive processes that follow from discrepancies involving behavior and important, self-defining attitudes and beliefs.  The Self-Standards Model of Cognitive Dissonance (or SSM, Stone & Cooper, 2001) assumes that discrepancies between behavior and important attitudes or beliefs cause people to feel discomfort (i.e., cognitive dissonance) that they are motivated to reduce.  However, instead of reducing their discomfort by making amends, people often reduce their discomfort by justifying or rationalizing their behavior -- that is, by changing their attitudes or beliefs to accommodate the discrepant act.  According to the SSM, the nature of how self-esteem moderates self-justification depends on the type of self-attributes and standards that are brought to mind in the context of a discrepant behavior. 

            Our experiments show that once people have committed a discrepant act, priming the use of different types of self-standards, or manipulating the accessibility of different types of positive self-attributes, determines when and how self-esteem increases or decreases the motivation to justify a discrepant behavior. Early empirical support for the SSM is summarized in edited book chapters (Stone, 1999; Stone, 2001) and recent tests of the model are described in two empirical articles.

            For example, in one experiment (see Stone, 2001), participants with high or low self-esteem completed a free choice procedure (Brehm, 1956).  Following the decision but before they rated the items a second time, participants were primed for either their own personal standards for competent behavior, or they were primed for the normative standards for competent behavior.  The attitude change data showed that priming personal self-standards caused participants with high self-esteem to justify their choices significantly more than participants with low self-esteem, whereas priming normative self-standards led to significant decision justification for both self-esteem groups.  We recently replicated this interaction pattern between self-esteem and the priming of personal versus normative self-standards following a traditional counter-attitudinal essay task (Stone, 2003). 

            In another paper (Stone & Cooper, 2003), we reported that after writing an uncompassionate essay, priming positive self-attributes that were relevant to the discrepant act (e.g., compassion) caused more attitude change for participants with high self-esteem compared to participants with low self-esteem, whereas priming positive self-attributes that were irrelevant to the discrepant act (e.g., creative) caused more attitude change for participants with low self-esteem as compared to those with high self-esteem.  These studies support the SSM prediction that the role of self-esteem in defensive self-justification depends upon if and how people think about themselves in the context of a discrepant act.


            Comments or questions about our research: mailto:jeffs@u.arizona.edu