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Can antidiscrimination law effect changes in public attitudes toward minority groups? Could learning, for instance, that employment discrimination against people with clinical depression is legally prohibited cause members of the public to be more accepting toward people with mental health conditions? In this Article, we report the results of a series of experiments that test the effect of inducing the belief that discrimination against a given group is legal (versus illegal) on interpersonal attitudes toward members of that group. We find that learning that discrimination is unlawful does not simply lead people to believe that an employer is more likely to face punishment for discriminatory behavior. It also leads some people to report less prejudicial attitudes and greater feelings of interpersonal warmth toward members of that group. Conversely, when people learn that the law tolerates discrimination against a group, it can license more prejudicial attitudes. Importantly, we demonstrate that individuals vary substantially in the degree to which they view courts as legitimate authorities and that these orientations systematically moderate the degree to which—and even the direction in which—prejudicial attitudes shift in response to legal rules.


All data and materials related to this project are available online: Roseanna Sommers & Sara Emily Burke, The Legal Status of Discrimination Can Alter Personal Prejudice Against People with Depression, OPENICPSR (July 26, 2021),