To test her hypothesis, she designed a double-blind study.
Trained student-interviewers in pairs were randomly assigned to visit the homes of the white people assessed as the most extreme “libertarians” and “authoritarians” (based on their original responses to those child-rearing questions). Some interviewers were African American, others white. They asked the same broad, open-ended questions provided by Stenner, recorded audio of their conversations for later “coding” and analysis, and kept interview logs to document their observations of the encounters, too.
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Neither interviewers nor subjects knew the true nature and specific purpose of the research nor the psychological profiles of the subjects. The same was true of the people transcribing and coding the interviews for Stenner’s subsequent quantitative analysis.
If Stenner was correct, the way her subjects answered the original questions about child-rearing would predict how well they tolerated different people and beliefs months later in their homes. And insights would be gained into their likely comfort with, and ability to “put up with” the diverse peoples, attitudes, and behaviors that confront everyone in a modern liberal democracy.
The results were staggering. The group whose child-rearing preferences skewed most toward traits of obedience and conformity were less pleasant, less intelligent, angrier, and less open to experience, among other attributes. But I want to focus on the results related to race. If contacted by white interviewers, the “authoritarians” were almost indistinguishable from the “libertarians” in their willingness to schedule a conversation. They proved dramatically more reluctant to participate when contacted by black interviewers.
The authoritarians were more hostile, suspicious, and anxious with black interviewers, whereas “especially given a black interviewer, libertarians were vastly more likely than authoritarians to display great warmth toward their visitors.”
With white interviewers, authoritarians were less likely than libertarians to introduce talk about “social exclusion, isolation, and disconnection,” but with a black interviewer they were far more likely, even as libertarians were indifferent to the interviewer’s race. “The language of authoritarians was especially inclusive when it was just ‘us’ talking among ourselves,” Stenner explained, “but they were clearly thinking exclusion when confronting one of ‘them.’”
Authoritarians displayed more anxiety, “but their fearfulness and nervousness was far more (and perhaps only) apparent when trying to get through the whole ordeal with a black interview partner listening.” They were far more inclined than libertarians to talk in terms of “us” and “them” when discussing race. They tended to echo negative racial stereotypes. And they were more likely to confess that they disapproved of mixed-race socializing.