Disguising Prejudice: Popular Rationales as Excuses for Intolerant Expression

122 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2020 Last revised: 18 Nov 2021

See all articles by Leonardo Bursztyn

Leonardo Bursztyn

University of Chicago - Department of Economics

Ingar Haaland

University of Bergen

Aakaash Rao

Harvard University, Department of Economics

Christopher Roth

University of Warwick, Faculty of Social Studies, Department of Economics, Students

Date Written: May 2020

Abstract

We study the use of popular rationales to justify public anti-minority actions. Rationales to oppose minorities change some people's private opinions, leading them to take anti-minority actions even if they are not prejudiced against minorities. When these rationales become widespread, prejudiced people can pool with unprejudiced people who are persuaded, decreasing the stigma associated with anti-minority expression and enabling greater public opposition to minority groups. We examine this mechanism through several large-scale experiments in the context of anti-immigrant behavior in the United States. In a first experiment, subjects learn that a previous respondent authorized a donation to an anti-immigrant organization and then make an inference about the respondent's underlying motivations. Subjects informed that their matched respondent learned about a study claiming that immigrants increase crime rates before authorizing the donation see the respondent as less intolerant and more easily persuadable. In a second experiment, subjects learn about that same study and then choose whether to authorize a publicly observable donation to the anti-immigrant organization. Subjects who are informed that their exposure to the rationale will be publicly observable are substantially more likely to make the donation than subjects who are informed that their exposure will remain private. Our findings suggest that prominent public figures can lower the social cost of intolerant expression by popularizing rationales, contributing to waves of anti-minority behavior.

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Suggested Citation

Bursztyn, Leonardo and Haaland, Ingar and Rao, Aakaash and Roth, Christopher, Disguising Prejudice: Popular Rationales as Excuses for Intolerant Expression (May 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3615485 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3615485

Leonardo Bursztyn (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

1126 E. 59th St
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Ingar Haaland

University of Bergen ( email )

Mus├ęplassen 1
N-5008 Bergen, +47 55 58
Norway

Aakaash Rao

Harvard University, Department of Economics ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02138

HOME PAGE: http://aakaashrao.github.io

Christopher Roth

University of Warwick, Faculty of Social Studies, Department of Economics, Students ( email )

Coventry, CV4 7AL
United Kingdom

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