Implicit stereotyping as a predictor of discrimination

Stereotypic explanatory bias: Implicit stereotyping as a predictor of discrimination

Denise Sekaquaptewa,a,* Penelope Espinoza,a Mischa Thompson,a

Patrick Vargas,b and William von Hippelc

a Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1109, USA b Department of Advertising, University of Illinois, IL, USA

c School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Received 7 March 2001; revised 11 February 2002


Two experiments examined whether a measure of implicit stereotyping based on the tendency to explain Black stereotype-

incongruent events more often than Black stereotype-congruent events (Stereotypic Explanatory Bias or SEB) is predictive of be-

havior toward a partner in an interracial interaction. In Experiment 1 SEB predicted White males� choice to ask stereotypic questions of a Black female (but not a White male or White female) in an interview. In Experiment 2 the type of explanation

(internal or external attribution) made for stereotype-inconsistency was examined. Results showed that White participants who

made internal attributions for Black stereotype-incongruent behavior were rated more positively and those who made external

attributions were rated more negatively by a Black male confederate. These results point to the potential of implicit stereotyping as

an important predictor of behavior in an interracial interaction.

� 2002 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.

Keywords: Stereotyping; Intergroup behavior; Prejudice; Interracial interaction

Stereotyping and prejudice are difficult to measure

because people are often unwilling to admit negative

attitudes and beliefs about social groups (Fazio, Jack-

son, Dunton, & Williams, 1995). Additionally, people

may sometimes be unable to accurately report on these

topics because how they think and feel about social groups may not be consciously accessible to them

(Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). Thus, researchers are faced

with a substantial ‘‘willing and able’’ problem when

attempting to measure prejudice and stereotyping.

In response to this ‘‘willing and able’’ problem, re-

searchers turned to measures of implicit prejudice and

stereotyping. Such measures are thought to tap con-

sciously inaccessible group-based attitudes and beliefs (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). Most research attention

has focused on implicit prejudice measures, which are

intended to assess the degree of positivity or negativity

an individual implicitly associates with social groups

(e.g., Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998). Some-

what less research attention has focused on implicit

stereotype measures (e.g., Wittenbrink, Judd, & Park,

1997), and implicit stereotyping, which we define as the

unintended influence of stereotypes on information

processing (cf. Brewer, 1996). In part, this focus on prejudice rather than stereotypes/stereotyping probably

emerged because prejudice has traditionally been

thought to be more consequential than stereotyping for

behavioral outcomes such as discrimination (Brigham,

1971; Stangor, Sullivan, & Ford, 1991).

To the extent that measures of implicit prejudice and

stereotyping assess important processes relevant to in-

tergroup attitudes and perceptions (von Hippel, Se- kaquaptewa, & Vargas, 1995, 1997), it seems reasonable

to expect them to relate to intergroup behavior. Yet

such demonstrations are rare. In one study, White

participants who implicitly favored Whites over

African-Americans were rated by observers as having

more positive interactions with a White than a Black

experimenter (McConnell & Leibold, 2001; see also

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 39 (2003) 75–82

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

*Corresponding author. Fax: 1-734-647-9440.

E-mail address: (D. Sekaquaptewa).

0022-1031/02/$ – see front matter � 2002 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved. PII: S0022-1031 (02 )00512-7

mail to:

Fazio et al., 1995). Similarly, Whites high in implicit prejudice showed greater indications of anxiety (e.g.,

eyeblinking) when interacting with a Black partner

(Dovidio, Kawakami, Johnson, Johnson, & Howard,

1997). The dearth of studies on the predictive utility of

such measures (particularly on implicit stereotyping,

concerning which no studies could be located) indicates

the need for more experimental investigations in this

area. If stereotyping is defined as the use of stereotypes in

information processing (Brewer, 1996), then there are

almost as many ways to operationalize implicit stereo-

typing as there are known stereotypic biases. Of these

biases, we focused on an explanatory bias adapted from

Hastie (1984) and introduced in our earlier work (von

Hippel et al., 1997, Experiment 3). This explanatory bias

emerges when one is more likely to provide explanations for behaviors that are inconsistent with expectancies

than for behaviors that are consistent with expectancies.

For example, if one expects an individual ‘‘James’’ to be

unintelligent, learning that ‘‘James received an A on the

test’’ may instigate explanatory processing, in an at-

tempt to make sense of the incongruity (‘‘. . .because it was an easy test’’). Learning that ‘‘James received a D

on the test,’’ on the other hand, is unlikely to instigate explanatory processing. Because such expectancies can

be based on stereotypes, an explanatory bias can emerge

in response to stereotype-inconsistency as well. To the

extent that this stereotypic explanatory bias (SEB) re-

flects the unintended influence of stereotypes on pro-

cessing, it is well-suited to the goal of measuring implicit


If implicit stereotyping as indicated by SEB reflects differences in the way perceivers process stereotype-

relevant information, then it seems likely that people

who vary in SEB would react differently during inter-

actions with stereotyped individuals. People who show

SEB should tend to selectively discount counter-stereo-

typic behaviors from Blacks, and thereby behave in a

more negative manner when interacting with a Black

person. According to this logic, we predicted that re- spondents who show SEB would display discriminatory

behavior towards a Black but not a White individual. In

the lab, discriminatory behaviors are likely to be rela-

tively subtle, involving nonverbal behaviors (Dovidio et

al., 1997) or behavioral choices that are not clearly as-

sociated with discrimination. For example, Rudman and

Borgida (1995) identified sexist behavior in men who

chose to ask subtly sexist/stereotypic questions in an interview context. Experiment 1 was conducted using a

similar procedure adapted for interracial interaction.

White male participants engaged in a mock job inter- view with either a White or Black interviewee (actually a

research assistant). Participants were given a list of

Black stereotypic and neutral questions to select for use

in their interview. It was predicted that White partici-

pants who showed SEB would tend to choose stereo-

typic questions to ask of a Black but not a White


Because prejudicial attitudes have been shown to be better predictors of behavior than endorsement of ste-

reotypes (e.g., Brigham, 1971), the Modern Racism

Scale (MRS: McConahay, Hardee, & Batts, 1981) was

also administered. We predicted that SEB would ac-

count for variance in behavioral choice beyond that

explained by the MRS. Because implicit measures are

frequently unrelated to more traditional, direct mea-

sures of racial attitudes (Dovidio et al., 1997; Kawakami & Dovidio, 2001; von Hippel et al., 1997), we expected

that the SEB measure would not be correlated with the


Experiment 1



Fifty-five White males participated in partial fulfill-

ment of psychology course requirements.


Stereotypic explanatory bias was assessed by pre-

senting participants with a series of 25 sentence beginnings, 16 of which were designed to measure re-

sponses to Black stereotype-consistent behaviors (e.g.,

easily made the team) and Black stereotype-inconsis-

tent behaviors (e.g., got a job at Microsoft). Behaviors

were paired with 50% male and 50% female African-

American (e.g., Marcellus, Lakisha) and White names

(e.g., Adam, Deborah). Nine race-neutral behaviors

(e.g., Linda ate a sandwich) were also included as filler items. It was necessary to include White targets in the

measure to ensure that participants were responding to

the com- bination of the target�s race and the race stereotypicality of the behavior, as opposed to only the

behavior itself. Additionally, the SEB items included

both positive and negative Black stereotypic behaviors

(i.e., easily made the team; blasted loud music in his

car) and positive and negative counter-stereotypic be- haviors (i.e., enrolled at Princeton; refused to dance).

Participants were asked to add words to the end of the

sentence stem in any manner that created a grammat-

ically correct sentence (see Hastie, 1984). SEB is evi-

denced by providing more explanations for Black

targets engaging in Black stereotype-inconsistent than –

consistent behaviors.

1 In a pretest SEB was demonstrated in students enrolled in a

course on stereotyping and was uncorrelated with explicit stereotype

endorsement, rð59Þ ¼ �:005, p ¼ :97, supporting the idea that the bias is implicit and distinct from conscious stereotype endorsement.

76 D. Sekaquaptewa et al. / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 39 (2003) 75–82

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