Study reveals a price of prejudice

People with racially prejudiced attitudes may suffer a previously unrecognized cost for their outlook: temporary impairment of some forms of mental functioning.

In a study to be published in the May issue of Psychological Science, Jennifer Richeson of Dartmouth College and Nicole Shelton of Princeton found that white people with a high degree of racial bias suffer a decrease in a key element of thought called "executive function" immediately following interactions with black people.

The study involved 59 white college students who were given a commonly used test to assess the degree of racial bias in their thinking. The students spent time in conversation with either a black or white person and then were given a test of their ability to concentrate on a challenging mental task. The results showed that the more biased people appeared to be in the first test, the worse they did on the second if they spoke with a black person in between. In contrast, highly biased people who spoke with a white person, even about racially sensitive issues, suffered no subsequent loss of mental function.

"When you have to control your behavior, it takes a lot of energy," said Shelton. "And if you expend energy in a social interaction, then you don't have so much left over to do something else."

For more details, see the full news release , as well as a feature article on Nicole Shelton in the Princeton Weekly Bulletin.

Contact: Lauren Robinson-Brown (609) 258-3601