Investigating How High Economic Inequality Exacerbates Intergroup Prejudice

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Lisnek, Jaclyn, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Lisnek, Jaclyn, AS-Psychology (PSYC), University of Virginia

Rising economic inequality is associated with more prejudice. Little empirical data, however, investigates how inequality impacts individuals’ psychological processing and, in turn, exacerbates prejudice. We hypothesized that higher economic inequality triggers beliefs that unequal economies are zero-sum and leads to beliefs that people are in competition for limited resources, which may ultimately exacerbate intergroup prejudice. Through 7 experiments (Studies 1-4 in the manuscript and 3 additional studies in the Supplement), we provide evidence that higher inequality increases prejudice against a wide range of outgroups: people of a different race, people of a different religion, people who speak a different language, immigrants/foreign workers, and people of a different socioeconomic status. Further, zero-sum beliefs and perceived competition serially mediate this relationship (Study 2). In Study 3, we investigated nuance in this hypothesized model by specifically testing whether higher economic inequality exacerbates racial/ethnic prejudice among a large, diverse sample of Asian, Black, Latinx, and White participants and find a similar pattern of results. In a final study (Study 4), we demonstrate that assuaging zero-sum and competition beliefs mitigates prejudice. Overall, we find that zero-sum beliefs and perceived competition may be a particularly important mechanism to consider when trying to understand the relationship between economic inequality and prejudice.

MA (Master of Arts)
Economic inequality, Competition, Zero-sum beliefs, Prejudice, Intergroup relations
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