In 2015, a study was published claiming that reducing prejudice against homosexuals was relatively easy. All it took was a short conversation with a stranger who went door to door talking about prejudice against homosexuals. Presumably, the participants’ attitudes continued to change for up to three months after that conversation.
The study received a lot of media attention and was considered groundbreaking because we knew so little about how to reduce bias. Unfortunately, it turned out to be largely based on fraudulent data and the investigation was withdrawn.
Ironically, the researcher who discovered the fraudulent data in this first recruitment study, David Broockman, has now published his own study on the same topic. It actually demonstrates that recruiting do change participants’ attitudes towards transgender people and that this change in attitude lasts for at least three months.
Prejudice against transgender people is pervasive in the US. They are significantly more likely to become victims of violent crime, become homeless and develop health problems due to lack of adequate medical care. However, research on prejudice against transgender people is limited and there are few field studies examining it. This new study, published by Broockman and Joshua Kalla, is not only one of the first to do so, but also identifies potential ways to reduce it.
In the study, participants were randomized to receive a canvasser that would talk to them about transgender prejudice (the experimental condition) or about recycling (the control condition). The canvassers talking about prejudice used a scripted conversation that asked participants to remember a time when they were negatively judged to help them empathize with transgender people experiencing prejudice. This technique is known as “analogical perspective taking.”
In addition, Broockman and Kalla also tested the “contact hypothesis,” which suggests that exposure to a member of a stigmatized group reduces prejudice against that group. They tested it by including transgender colleagues in their study.
Before and after the interview, the participants were asked several survey questions. The researchers took care to hide the true nature of the survey, which gauged attitudes toward transgender people. Participants showed no indications of suspicion about the true nature of the study.
The study found that participants assigned to a canvasser who talked to them about prejudices about transgender people saw their prejudices about this topic diminish. The change also had practical implications, as these participants gained more support from a law that would protect transgender people from discrimination. Interestingly, the gender status of the canvasser did not affect the results – non-transgender and transgender canvassers were equally effective.
The researchers also decided to test whether exposure to a short attack ad would reverse the effects of the intervention. So they created an ad that promoted political views that were harmful to transgender people.
They found that this attack ad temporarily reduced the positive effects of the recruitment intervention, but participants still generally maintained more positive attitudes toward transgender people. In addition, at the three-month follow-up, the participants who were shown this attack ad still maintained more positive attitudes toward transgender people than they did prior to the intervention.
Transgender people are subject to a higher rate of violent crime and receive far less adequate healthcare, largely due to prejudices held against them. If it really is as easy to change someone’s mind as having a conversation, perhaps we can look forward to a reduction in these ill effects in the future.
Science2016. DOI: 10.1126/science.aad9713, (About DOIs).