Ongoing Research

Implicit Attitudes

One current line of research focuses on better understanding the nature of the negativity captured by implicit measures of association such as the Implicit Association Test (IAT). Although the negative associations captured by these measures are often equated with prejudice, we argue that because measures of implicit associations actually tap non-specific evaluative negativity, they may fail to distinguish between qualitatively different types of automatically activated negativity. Sometimes (perhaps often) implicit measures tap prejudice-based negative associations: Associations that capture dislike, hostility, aversion, or contempt, and which should be predictive of negative, prejudicial responding. Other times, however, implicit measures tap empathy-based negative associations: “Negative” associations that represent the distress or discomfort that arises from acknowledgement of the injustice or suffering endured by an outgroup. Empathy-based negative associations should be associated with compassionate or helpful responses. Current research in the lab is focused on identifying moderating factors that govern when implicit associations will reflect each of these underlying bases. For example, Andreychik and Gill (2012) demonstrated that external explanations for the status and action of outgroups—i.e., explanations highlighting forces outside of the group, such as discrimination and injustice—moderate whether implicit negativity is prejudice-based or empathy-based. This work suggests that implicit measures of association do not necessarily capture prejudicial attitudes, and that consciously-endorsed belief systems--such as external explanations--can shape attitudes even at an implicit level.

Explanation and Socio-emotional Responding

A second line of ongoing research concerns the relationship between social explanations and socio-emotional responses (e.g., compassion, hatred). A major finding to emerge from the literature on explanation in intergroup contexts is that ingroup members’ tendency to explain the low status and negative actions of ourgroups in terms of outgroup character flaws fuels prejudice and hostility. However, our work focuses on the potential for explanations to energize more positive socio-emotional responses toward outgroups. For example, Gill and Andreychik (2007) showed that individuals who endorse external explanations for African American social status—i.e., explanations highlighting forces outside of the group, such as the centuries of injustice they endured—reported greater compunction (negative, self-directed affect) in response to their own prejudicial biases. Currently, we are exploring the possibility that external explanations can energize compassionate responses even toward targets who are seen as having control over their negative behaviors (Gill & Andreychik, 2012). Additionally, in light of mixed findings regarding the relationship between essentialistic explanations—i.e., explanations locating the causes of group identity and/or behavior in "deep" qualities such as genes or biology—and prejudice, we are currently exploring alternative concepualizations of essentialism and related constructs (e.g., entitativity). Finally, expanding on past work from our lab demonstrating that the relationship between explanations and attitudes depends critically on an individual’s motivational orientation (Andreychik & Gill, 2009), we are exploring various moderating factors that shape the relationship between explanations and socio-emotional responses.