Friday, November 26, 2004

Happiness and Prejudice

Research shows that money buys happiness, so it means that the rich, happier than the poor, are more likely to use stereotypes in social judgment than the poor:
  • Four experiments examined the effects of happiness on the tendency to use stereotypes in social judgment. In each experiment, individuals who had been induced to feel happy rendered more stereotypic judgments than did those in a neutral mood. Exp 1 demonstrated this phenomenon with a mood induction procedure that involved recalling life experiences. Exps 2 and 3 suggested that the greater reliance on stereotypes evident in the judgments of happy individuals was not attributable to cognitive capacity deficits created by intrusive happy thoughts or by cognitively disruptive excitement or energetic arousal that may accompany the experience of happiness. In Exp 4, happy individuals again were found to render more stereotypic judgments, except under conditions in which they had been told that they would be held accountable for their judgments. These results suggest that although happy people's tendency to engage in stereotypic thinking may be pervasive, they are quite capable of avoiding the influence of stereotypes in their judgments when situational factors provide a motivational impetus for such effort. (Galen V. Bodenhausen, Geoffrey P. Kramer, and Karin Süsser, "Happiness and Stereotypic Thinking in Social Judgment," Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 66.4, April 1994, pp. 621-632)

  • In a series of experiments at Michigan State University, undergraduates were asked to imagine that they were members of a peer disciplinary panel assembled to judge an assault case. Some were told that the alleged assailant's name was John Garner; others were given the name Juan Garcia. The researchers, who reported their work in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, provided both groups with an otherwise identical case summary and asked them to rate the likelihood that the accused was guilty.

    The panelists' judgments, alas, conformed to a common racial stereotype. Juan was rated more likely to be guilty.

    But there's a twist. Only when the researchers induced a happy mood by playing the students cheerful music or asking them to describe a happy memory -- did the stereotyping occur. Subjects asked to remember mundane events from the previous day rated both suspects equally guilty.

    Achieving social harmony in a multiracial society need not preclude a happy populace. The disparity in Juan and John's guilt disappeared when the happy students were asked to justify their decisions.

    Psychologist Galen V. Bodenhausen suggests that happy people simply aren't motivated enough to tackle a complex analysis; it might spoil their good mood. Instead, they rely on quick conclusions -- the cognitive equivalent of a TV dinner. Only when given sufficient reason do they take the time to prepare a more thoughtful evaluation. (Peter Doskoch, "The Dumb Side of Happiness," Psychology Today, September-October, 1994)

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