Mirrors suppress people’s prejudice

People exhibit less prejudice when they’re in the presence of a mirror, Dutch researchers have shown. Carina Wiekens and Diederik Stapel said this effect occurs because mirrors make us more aware of our public appearance, and therefore remind us of the need to fall in line with social norms.

An initial study with 164 students tested the effect of two manipulations: either being in the presence of a mirror, or scanning a passage of text for first-person pronouns like “I”, “me” and “mine”.

The pronoun task activated the students’ private self-awareness, increasing their agreement with statements like “I am trying to figure myself out”. The presence of a mirror similarly increased private self-awareness, but also increased public self-awareness, leading students to agree more with statements like “I am aware of my appearance”.

Another experiment then tested the effect of these two manipulations on the prejudice of students towards Surinamese people (a significant ethnic minority in Holland). One hundred and twenty-seven students read an ambiguous story about a Dutch man or a Surinamese man that could either be interpreted positively (the man was sociable) or negatively (he was irresponsible).

Students who’d revealed their prejudice in an earlier questionnaire were more likely to rate the Surinamese man in a negative way after they’d completed the pronoun task than were control students who didn’t perform that task. By contrast, students sat in the presence of a mirror were less likely to rate the Surinamese man in a negative way, compared with control students who didn’t have a mirror near them.

The researchers concluded: “Our results suggest that when both private and public selves are activated [by the mirror] they do not cancel each other out when it concerns their input for normative behaviour. Rather, public concerns “win” and people show more appropriate, norm-driven behaviour.”
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Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchWIEKENS, C., STAPEL, D. (2008). The Mirror and I: When private opinions are in conflict with public norms. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(4), 1160-1166. DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2008.02.005

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

One thought on “Mirrors suppress people’s prejudice”

  1. The title is badly phrased; it should be ‘mirrors suppress socially deprecated prejudice.’ I suspect the effect would be different if the prejudice were almost-universally socially acceptable.

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