How Do People of Different
Imagine yourself a student, walking into
a dining hall. You notice a group of students who live near you
and are of a racial group other than your own. Would you join them?
If not, why?
Nicole Shelton studies interracial and interethnic relationships
and often mines insights from students’ real-life experiences.
Her work puts her at the forefront of an emerging approach to social
psychology that moves beyond carefully structured laboratory interactions.
In a series of studies, Shelton shows how both majority and minority
group members shape their interactions with a mix of emotions that
is more dynamic than previously appreciated.
In one study, Shelton surveyed some 70 racially mixed pairs of university
roommates, who were also asked to diary their interactions for 15
days. She measured the ethnic minorities' stigma consciousness,
their dispositional tendency to expect Whites to be prejudice.
She found that during interracial interactions, the higher the ethnic
minorities were in stigma consciousness, the less authentic they
felt and the more they experienced tension, anxiety, or frustration.
In a different study, Shelton manipulated the extent to which ethnic
minorities should expect to be the target of prejudice. "During
interactions where prejudice was expected,” Shelton observes,
“Whites had a positive experience, while ethnic minorities
felt less authentic and experienced adverse emotions."
In her study, “Interpersonal Concerns in Social Encounters
Between Majority and Minority Group Members,” published in
Group Process & Intergroup Relations (2003, Vol 6), Shelton
examined the impact of Whites’ concerns with appearing prejudiced
during an interracial interactions. Her results show that Whites
who were explicitly instructed to try not to be prejudiced were
better liked by a their Black interaction partner than were Whites
who were not instructed to suppress prejudice.
These studies and others like them may yield new approaches for
programs aimed at breaking down racial and ethnic barriers among
students or other groups.