Character  &  Context

The Science of Who We Are and How We Relate
Editors: Mark Leary, Shira Gabriel, Brett Pelham
Mar 01, 2018

How White People Perceive The Purpose Of Diversity

Image of people sitting down on chairs

The purpose of diversity can seem different for different people. At the SPSP 2018 Annual Convention Justice and Morality Pre-conference, Dr. Stacey Sinclair from Princeton explored the motives underlying diversity in “Why Diversify: Framing Diversity as a Moral Versus Instrumental Good.”

How people frame the benefits of diversity, according to Dr. Sinclair, can be more moral–motivated by fairness and justice–or more instrumental—motivated by usefulness, like broadening horizons.

“Affirmative action eliminates the effects of past racial discriminatory practices…”
–Carter v Gallagher, 1971

“…Studies show that student body diversity promotes learning outcomes…”
–Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 2003

One context in which these framings are reflected is messaging in the diversity statements issued by Universities. Dr. Sinclair manipulated this messaging to investigate White people’s preferences for moral or instrumental framing. White people reported liking the University with instrumental messaging more, thought they would gain more value from attending, and were more likely to want to attend. Moreover, when forced to choose between Universities with instrumental or moral framing, three quarters preferred the instrumental framing.

Other analyses revealed some of the assumptions potentially underlying these preferences.

In both framings, people assumed that “diversity” referred primarily to Black people. In the instrumental framing, people assumed that “diversity” referred a little more to White and a little less to Black people, implying that White people might feel more personally included in instrumental framings. Consistent with this idea, White people reported thinking they had more to contribute in the instrumental framing.

Dr. Sinclair plans to investigate minority groups’ attitudes toward different framings as part of her next stage of research.

These findings bring up the question of who diversity is for, who it should benefit. Moral framings imply that diversity corrects unfairness, while instrumental framing make salient the benefits to members of advantaged, majority groups. Ultimately, the way diversity is framed could have implications for whether diversity initiatives are supported and effective in organizations.

Written by Liz Redford, doctoral candidate at the University of Florida

Preconference: Justice & Morality

Presentation:  “Why Diversify: Framing Diversity as a Moral Versus Instrumental Good”

Speaker: Dr. Stacey Sinclair, Princeton University


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Why is this blog called Character & Context?

Everything that people think, feel, and do is affected by some combination of their personal characteristics and features of the social context they are in at the time. Character & Context explores the latest insights about human behavior from research in personality and social psychology, the scientific field that studies the causes of everyday behaviors.  

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