Suspicion of motives predicts minorities' responses to positive feedback in interracial interactions
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2015.10.007
Strong social and legal norms in the United States discourage the overt expression of bias against ethnic and racial minorities, increasing the attributional ambiguity of Whites' positive behavior to ethnic minorities. Minorities who suspect that Whites' positive overtures toward minorities are motivated more by their fear of appearing racist than by egalitarian attitudes may regard positive feedback they receive from Whites as disingenuous. This may lead them to react to such feedback with feelings of uncertainty and threat. Three studies examined how suspicion of motives relates to ethnic minorities' responses to receiving positive feedback from a White peer or same-ethnicity peer (Experiment 1), to receiving feedback from a White peer that was positive or negative (Experiment 2), and to receiving positive feedback from a White peer who did or did not know their ethnicity (Experiment 3). As predicted, the more suspicious Latinas were of Whites' motives for behaving positively toward minorities in general, the more they regarded positive feedback from a White peer who knew their ethnicity as disingenuous and the more they reacted with cardiovascular reactivity characteristic of threat/avoidance, increased feelings of stress, heightened uncertainty, and decreased self-esteem. We discuss the implications for intergroup interactions of perceptions of Whites' motives for nonprejudiced behavior.