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Date of Award
Thesis-ISU Access Only
Master of Science (MS)
Department of Psychology
Eric D. Wesselmann
I investigated how moral attributions ascribed to a target, named James, can vary on the basis of affective display and the race of the target. I also investigated how two variables, perceived threat posed by Black people and motivation to control prejudice against Black people, impact the attribution process, which is hypothetically mediated by perceived social deviance. Research has shown that affective display can affect things like preferred social distance from an individual and perceptions of immorality and evilness (Gromet, Goodman, & Goodwin, 2016). Drawing from a hypothesis posited by Kurzban and Leary (2001), I expected that participants would respond to individuals who are morally “deviant” with a sort of disgust, the possible consequence of which might be increased perceptions of immorality and evilness in the target and a preference for greater distance from the target. Additionally, given an extensive body of legal literature that indicates a bias against the “other,” I wanted to know how race factors into participants’ judgments, and if two specific processes factor into these decisions. I attempted to replicate the findings of Study 1 in Gromet, Goodman, and Goodwin (2016), although I dropped the neutral reaction condition due to differences being driven by just two affective response conditions. Participants were asked to read a brief narrative in which a target was either upset or delighted by a grim situation in his personal life. Additionally, the race of the target was manipulated, in that he was either White or Black. Participants were asked to evaluate the target in terms of immorality and evilness and what their preferred distance from the target would be. Participants then filled out measures to determine the degree to which they are threatened by members of the target’s race and how motivated they are to control their prejudice against members of the target’s race. The general findings were consistent with Study 1 in Gromet et al. (2016) such that, relative to the upset targets, participants rated the delighted targets’ reactions as more evil and immoral, the delighted targets themselves as more evil and immoral, that they preferred greater social distance between themselves and the delighted target, and that they believed the delighted target would be more likely to harm someone in the future. Participants also, paradoxically, preferred less social distance between themselves and the Black, upset target than they did for the White, upset target. These findings may reiterate the importance of displaying appropriate affect in the courtroom for defendants, regardless of race. However, because these findings run contrary to the legal literature pertaining to defendant characteristics, this project may highlight the need for further study and refinement of materials and methods to investigate the effects of a target’s race in such contexts.
Stillman, Zachery Ean, "The Effects of Race, Affect, Motivation To Control Prejudice, and Perceived Threat on Moral Attributions" (2019). Theses and Dissertations. 1143.