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Internal (Not External) Motivation to Respond Without Bias Can Foster Interracial Interactions

By Nimisha Prasad, Taeik Kim, & Ximena Arriaga

  Despite high racial diversity and widespread egalitarian values in the United States, interracial interactions between White and Black individuals are still less common than same-race interactions. One common barrier that hinders such interactions is different concerns or expectations between Whites and Blacks. During interracial interactions, many Whites are concerned about appearing non-prejudiced towards Blacks whereas many Black individuals seek to be respected. This difference often leads both groups to avoid interactions or make them superficial when they do occur.

  Despite these barriers to interracial interactions, most people are motivated to interact in ways that avoid prejudices. Social Psychologists have examined motivations to interact without prejudice. People exhibit an external motivation when they are responding without prejudice to satisfy others or adhere to social norms. In contrast, they exhibit internal motivation when they satisfying their own beliefs or values. LaCosse and Plant (2020) hypothesized that White people who primarily care about socially negative consequences of being prejudiced (i.e., extrinsically motivated) would be more concerned about their own images of appearing non-prejudiced while those who are truly motivated to be non-prejudiced (i.e., intrinsically motivated) towards Blacks would care more about their needs to be respected.

  LaCosse and Plant (2020) performed six studies. The first study was conducted to identify respectful behaviors from Blacks’ perspectives. Ninety-nine Black undergraduates responded to what behaviors White people engage in make them feel respected during interactions. The remaining five studies were designed to explore the research hypotheses. In studies 2-4, White participants were told to imagine an interaction with a Black person and then completed self-report measures, including their concerns of appearing prejudiced and showing respect to their Black partner, self- or partner-focused behavioral intentions, and external and internal motivation to respond without prejudice. In studies 5 and 6, White participants watched a ‘getting-to-know-you’ video clip apparently made by a Black partner and made their own video clip to respond to it. In addition to answering the self-report measures, the video content was coded to identify partner-focused behaviors.

  The findings from both self-report measures (studies 2-4) and video contents (study 5 and 6) revealed that internally-motivated Whites focused more on their partners’ needs and showed greater concerns about respecting their Black partner, whereas externally-motivated Whites focused more on their impressions of appearing non-prejudiced and tended to avoid actions that may have revealed their bias.

  Why is this research important? A vast literature has suggested that the establishment of anti-prejudice social norms is a key strategy to tackle prejudicial and discriminatory behavior (see Crandall, Eshleman, & O'Brien, 2002; Crandall, Miller, & White, 2018). This article, however, suggests that focusing solely on anti-prejudice social norms may not be sufficient to address contemporary racism. Being overly-focused norms inhibit interracial interactions among people who primarily care about how they appear and the impressions they make on others. Nurturing an egalitarian social environment is very important, but this is one of several ultimate goals. What really matters is for people not only to “follow” egalitarian values but also believe in those value deep in their hearts.


LaCosse, J., & Plant, E. A. (2020). Internal motivation to respond without prejudice fosters respectful responses in interracial interactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 199, 1037-1056.

Crandall, C. S., Eshleman, A., & O'brien, L. (2002). Social norms and the expression and suppression of prejudice: the struggle for internalization. Journal of personality and social psychology82, 359–378.

Crandall, C. S., Miller, J. M., & White, M. H. (2018). Changing norms following the 2016 US presidential election: The Trump effect on prejudice. Social Psychological and Personality Science9, 186-192.

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