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Why confronting sexism works: Applying persuasion theories to confronting sexism

Amy L Hillard, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Speaking up about or confronting everyday prejudice creates more positive attitudes towards groups in the short-term. However, the mechanism underlying confrontation's prejudice reducing effect remains unclear. Because one goal of confronting prejudice is attitude change, a persuasion framework provides a theoretical model for research. Based on an integration of the confronting prejudice and persuasion literatures, I developed and tested three hypotheses about the effects of confrontation and elaboration of confrontation messages on observers' attitudes and behavior in the short- and longer-term. I expected that observing a confrontation (vs. no confrontation) reduces prejudice and discrimination; that elaborating on confrontation messages reduces prejudice and discrimination more than confrontation alone; and that elaborating on confrontation messages causes attitude change that lasts longer than confrontation alone. To test these hypotheses, participants were recruited to complete measures of sexism and feelings toward subtypes of women across three time points (i.e., pre-test, lab manipulation, and post-test). During the lab manipulation, participants imagined observing sexist jokes that were either confronted or not confronted. In addition, participants in confrontation conditions then wrote a control essay or an essay elaborating on the confrontation. Across these manipulations, there were three conditions to which 361 participants were randomly assigned: no confrontation control, confrontation-only, or confrontation+elaboration. 1–14 days after the lab manipulation, 161 participants completed the post-test, which included a measure of discrimination, ostensibly as part of an unrelated study. Results indicated that observing a confrontation (vs. no confrontation) resulted in more positive feelings toward women and less discrimination in the short- and longer-term, but there was no significant reduction in sexism. Contrary to predictions, elaboration of confrontation messages did not reduce prejudice or discrimination more than confrontation alone. In addition, elaborated confrontation did not cause attitude change to last longer over time. Overall, this study suggests that confronting prejudice reduces prejudice and discrimination in observers in the longer-term but that this effect is not enhanced by elaborating on confrontation messages.

Subject Area

Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Hillard, Amy L, "Why confronting sexism works: Applying persuasion theories to confronting sexism" (2011). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3465862.