Study of the Day: Blacks Confront Racists, Asians Prefer Quiet Revenge

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New research from Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows how race and culture shape our responses to racial insults.

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PROBLEM: Previous studies have demonstrated variations in the way people of distinct cultures communicate and manage conflict. Do their reactions to racial slurs differ as well?

METHODOLOGY: Researchers Elizabeth Lee and José Soto asked Asian and black American women to talk to another person online using an instant messenger. The conversation partner was a research assistant trained to make either a racist comment, such as "Dating [blacks/Asians] is for tools who let [blacks/Asians] control them" or a rude comment unrelated to race. The subjects then took part in a supposedly unrelated taste test, for which they chose a jellybean for their conversation partner. The jellybean flavors available ranged from delicious (e.g. cherry, lemon) to "bad-tasting" (e.g. earwax, dirt).

RESULTS: The African-American participants were more likely to directly respond to their racist partners than the Asian-American women, who preferred to retaliate in secret by not giving the good jellybeans.

CONCLUSION: Our racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds shape how we react to racism. The researchers write, "Our findings are consistent with black women's cultural heritage, which celebrates the past accomplishments of other black confronters of discrimination, as well as Asian women's heritage, which advises finding expedient resolutions in the name of peaceful relations."

SOURCE: The full study, "Bitter Reproach or Sweet Revenge: Cultural Differences in Response to Racism," (PDF) is published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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