Can antidiscrimination law effect changes in public attitudes toward minority groups? Could learning, for instance, that employment discrimination against people with clinical depression is illegal 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 (vs. 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 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 licenses more prejudicial attitudes. Importantly, we demonstrate that individuals vary substantially in the degree to which they view courts as legitimate authorities, and that this orientation is systematically related to the degree to which prejudicial attitudes shift in response to legal rules.
Civil Rights and Discrimination | Law and Economics | Law and Psychology | Social Psychology
Date of this Version
Working Paper Citation
Sommers, Roseanna and Burke, Sara, "Reducing Prejudice Through Law: Evidence from Experimental Psychology" (2021). Law & Economics Working Papers. 212.