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Attitude Change In Viewing Racist Terms

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Autor:  anton  03 September 2010
Tags:  Attitude,  Change,  Viewing,  Racist
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Attitude Change in Viewing Racist Terms as Immoral Using Persuasion Tactics and Group Size

Larkin Wood II

University of Georgia


The degree of individual attitudinal change dealing with racial terms among individuals when exposed to different persuasionary group size and tactics was studied. One hundred and twenty University of Georgia students received one of the twelve different conditions, which consisted of one of the three group sizes matched with one of the four persuasion types. Significant differences were found. The participants in larger groups had slightly larger degrees of attitude change than the smaller groups. In comparing the type of persuasion tactics used, rationale had the overall highest degrees of attitude change. The results of this study suggest persuading group size does play a significant role in attitude change, with a positive correlation between, and the rationale tactic is the most effective of the persuasionary tactics. Future research should study these variables in context of sexually offensive language, or use other tactics as they are discovered.

Attitude Change in Viewing Racist Terms as Immoral Due to Persuasion Tactics and Group Size

Persuasion is a topic that has been researched for many decades. At present, persuasion is used in almost every aspect of life, work, and social communication. Many methods and theories have been developed for the use of persuasion (Smith, 1982). Ways of researching the construct have been pursued frequently. The effects of the use of racial language have also been explored, as well as the sources and motivation of the language use (Schaefer, 1996). A topic that has been researched and written about is the area of morality and moral development (Hemming, 1991; Kohlberg, 1964; Rest, Narvaez, & Thoma, 2000). All three of these topics have been studied separately and sometimes together, but as far as can be established, the impact of persuasion on moral attitudes on the use of racially offensive language has not been explored. This is a very complex concept, but its need to be researched will become apparent within this study.

Many families, cultures, and peer groups use racially explicit language and they do not even find the language to be wrong or immoral (Schaefer, 1996). What about the people who find the language immoral and still use this style of racism? Is the reason conformity to social or peer pressures or is the reason something that makes an individual feel superior? Much research could be done around these concepts and questions, but the question being researched in this study is a very specific one: Can an individual who finds racial language immoral be persuaded to use the language in certain situations? Maybe it would benefit to show what started the reasoning for asking such a question.

Jean Latting (1993) wrote, “No one changes another. We cannot force others to abandon voluntarily old attitudes and habits and to act or think as we wish instead. We can only provide the opportunity and space for people to change themselves-if, when, and as they choose.” If this statement swayed the listener, they would abandon all hopes of failing to reject the previously stated research question because he concludes that people cannot be persuaded. Latting’s study had two purposes:

“(a) to elucidate the interpersonal dynamics of the protagonists in the persuasion effort-those who objected to terminology they experienced as racially or sexually offensive and those who were opposed ideologically to sexism or racism, yet defended the terms; and (b) to offer recommendations for future persuasion efforts based on extant theory on persuasion (Cialdini, 1988; Petty & Cacioppo, 1981) and it’s variants-psychological reactance, cognitive dissonance, impression management, and minority influence and on modern racism.”

Latting’s study is valid and it seems to have been completed with precision. His findings were inconclusive so one must reason that there are different ways to approach the study of such a topic. Latting himself even devotes a section of his article addressing how his persuasion efforts could have been more effective, which suggested a different approach to this study.

Influential tactics have been developed into a large field of study in present research. Schank and Abelson’s (1977) Persuade Package is a small standard set of influential tactics with the objective of persuading the target to behave in a particular way. Many researchers have used this package, most notably Aguinis, Nesler, Hosoda, and Tedeschi (1993). Schank and Abelson’s package included four tactical methods: rationality, ingratiation, assertiveness, and exchange. Rationality is defined as when the source presents facts in an attempt to obtain cooperation. Ingratiation is defined as when the source attempts to make a target feel wonderful or important in an attempt to obtain cooperation. Assertiveness is defined as when the source uses threats or force to attempt to obtain cooperation. Exchange is defined as when the source offers a highly desired reward, such as money or a favor, in exchange for cooperation (Schank & Abelson). Aguinis et al. found that of these four tactics, rationality was ranked as the most frequently used, followed by ingratiation, assertiveness, and finally exchange. These general tactics are very general but are excellent methods of persuasion, which can be used in a research study. These previous studies on persuasion are very good but lack the integration of some other concepts.

One limitation, which could affect this experiment, is the moral maturity of the subjects. One would have to reason that persuading a person who has low moral maturity is easier than would be a person with high moral maturity, though moral maturity is also a very debatable subject (Kohlberg, 1969; Rest et al., 2000;Hemming, 1991). The impact of subject moral maturity dictates that we should only use persons with high moral maturity. Under these conditions, the acceptance of racial language could suggest that the persuasion is actually making the subject defy their moral judgement. The definition of moral judgement by Lawrence Kohlberg is “the capacity to make decisions and judgments which are moral and to act in accordance with such"(Kohlberg, 1964). This definition of moral judgement shows the importance high moral maturity in such a study as explained previously.

Another construct for consideration to be included in this experiment is susceptibility to persuasion. Henry Abraham (1962) wrote, “As early as 1916, Warner Brown concluded that there is no trait which can be called suggestibility. On the other hand, Aveling and Hargreaves (1921), testing public schoolchildren in England, reported that there exists a general factor of suggestibility combined with group factors”. These results may be questionable, but it still would be in the best interest of the study to use total random assignment when placing the participants into their groups. This will incorporate a satisfying amount of control for this extraneous variable.

As far as past research on the specific topic being tested in this study, the documentation could not be located. The lack of prior research findings suggests that this work needs to be carried out. Between the previously explained research, there is only one other concept that should be addressed. Group size in the aspect of source of persuasion and final rational is very important. Anat Barnir (1998) found that “group decisions are more likely to shift toward risk when groups are large”. This is why group size is a definite factor in persuasion. When coupled with persuasion tactics, group size could play a major part in persuasion.

This is the next step with research already done on the interpersonal dynamics of the protagonists in the persuasion effort (Latting, 1993), influential tactics, moral maturity, susceptibility to persuasion, and persuasion source group size. Coupling these concepts together to try to persuade subjects to immorally use racial comments is a logical next step. The hypothesis being tested here is that if group size affects persuasability positively and if the rational tactic is more effective persuasive wise that ingratiation, assertiveness, or exchange, then larger groups will be more effective in persuasion, especially if using rationality instead of the other three tactics. The independent variables being tested here are Schank and Abelson’s four influential tactics and group size. The dependent variable is the degree of change of attitude in relation to the racial context of language used in different, specific situations.



One hundred and twenty University of Georgia undergraduate and graduate students (60 men and 60 women) were chosen for the experiment. Only students rating above a C-index of 30 on the MJT (Lind, 2001) were allowed to participate. The mean age for participants was 20.8 years (m=20.8), their majors were various, and their cultural background showed a relatively accurate sample of the university. The study was adveritized in the local school paper. The participants were paid for the experiment afterward, but were told that they were participating in a study on racism in the multi-cultural workplace. The 120 participant’s names were placed into two baskets, which separated males from females so that gender was equal in each condition. Otherwise, all other assignments were totally random by picking the names out of the basket and assigning them to the next group. Groups were assigned numbers 1-3 and each of these groups had subgroups labeled A-D. Each group had 40 participants with 10 participants in each subgroup, both of which had an equal number of males and females. Group 1 was defined by having 2 persuading confederates. Group 2 was defined by having 5 persuading confederates. Group 3 was defined as having 10 persuading confederates. The subgroups were defined by what influential tactic was being used. Subgroup A was persuaded using ingratiation, subgroup B with assertiveness, subgroup C with exchange, and subgroup D with rational.


Two tests were administered during this study. The first test was Dr. Lind’s MJT (2001), which was used to keep participants with lower than average moral maturity out of the experiment. This is important because the experiment could be jeopardized by the results from participants with low moral judgement. The second test administered was a twenty-question survey developed by the author of this article, who refers to it as the Racial Language Perception Survey (RLPS). This test uses a Likert value system rating the racial character of certain racial comments used in different situations, scaled from 1 (extremely racist) to 7 (not racist at all). Sets of 2,5, or 10 confederates were used to vary group size and implement persuasion tactics.


After randomly being assigned to the groups, all participants were sent copies of the RLPS. Stratified random sampling was used to control for extraneous variable, such as bias, cultural difference and suggestibility. These were mailed back no earlier that one month and no later than two weeks before their assigned experimental date. Experiments were carried out over a five month period. Each participant showed up to a room on the day of their experiment and was met by either 2,5, or 10 confederates, depending on their assigned group. The experimenter explained that the experiment was a study on racism in the multi-cultural workplace, and it was explained that all the present individuals were fellow participants in the study. The group was given a set of school and work setting scenarios in which racist actions or dialog took place, and the group was to come to a decision on whether the acts were deemed as racist. All questionnaires for the groups and subgroups of the experiment were identical and were derived from the twenty questions of the RLPS. The true participant was always given the opinion sheet to fill out and it was the confederates’ job to sway the decision of the participant to say that the acts or dialog were not racist. These confederates, who were chosen by race to have a variety of races present, used one of the four different persuasion techniques, depending on their subgroup, to persuade the participant to believe that the act or dialog was in fact not racist. The confederate would tell participants exposed to the subgroup A (ingratiation) condition such things as to make them feel good about themselves and important. Those exposed to the subgroup B (assertiveness) condition were threatened or pressured into going along with the group decision. During these sessions, confederates would tell the participant that they would physically injure or embarrass them if they did not write down that the group did not view the situations as immoral. During the subgroup C (exchange) condition, confederates would try to offer the participant money, football and concert tickets, or anything else small with monetary value so that they would place a conforming answer on the survey. Confederates using facts to try to explain their reasoning to the participant in order to achieve the desired response characterized the subgroup D condition (rationale). After the session was over, each participant was sent home with the identical RLPS and was asked to return it in no more than three days later. The scores of the RLPS were compared with each other and the experiment survey was not considered at all. The scores were measured by simply subtracting the first RLPS question ratings from the second RLPS question ratings, each question being considered individually. Then the measured differences for each question were added to produce an overall score. Negative values, which indicated a shift from thinking something was more racist on the second RLPS, were also added into the overall participant’s score. The higher overall scores portrayed being more persuaded, while the lower scores showed lower levels of persuasion. The data from each participant was documented and participant scores were averaged to create a subgroup mean. Ten individuals were in each subgroup (5 men and 5 women). The subgroup mean portrayed the value of persuasion for each subgroup. Subgroup scores were then averaged to create a group mean.


The data collected for each subgroup in group 1 presented a mean that was higher in subgroup D than subgroup A, and subgroup B lower than both. Subgroup C had the lowest mean of all the subgroups in group 1. The findings in group 3 followed the same trend as group 1 with subgroups, but the sum of the subgroup’s means were considerably higher than group 1. Group 2 had a higher mean in subgroup D than subgroup A, a lower mean in subgroup C, and the lowest mean in subgroup B. The sum of the subgroup’s means of this group fell between the other two groups.


The relationship of the data found in this study did in fact support the hypothesis that larger persuasive group size and use of the rationale tactic are more effective than smaller group size and use of any of the other three tactics. These results show that people can be persuaded to use what they believe to be racially offensive language, as oppose to Latting’s beliefs (1993), and that this persuasion is more effective when a larger persuasive group size and the rationale tactic is used. These results were consistent throughout the study. It was found that the averaged means of the subgroups in the 10 confederate group (group 3) was higher than the 5 confederate group (group 2), and that the 2 confederate group’s (group 1) mean was the lowest of all. In group 3, the subgroup’s means were found to be highest in the subgroup that used the rationale tactic (subgroup D). The next highest mean for the subgroups was found in the subgroup that used the ingratiation tactic (subgroup A), followed next in order to the subgroup that used the assertiveness tactic (subgroup B). The lowest was found in the subgroup that used the exchange tactic (subgroup C). So for an overall statement, persuasion can be used to sway people to use what they believe to be racially offensive language, and the best system is to have a larger persuasive group that uses rational to persuade the intended person.

These findings accurately parallel the findings of the Aguinis et al. (1993) study in which the rationale tactic was found superior to the other three. Paralleling Benier’s study (1998), the findings of this study also accurately showed that the common sense concept of larger group size was more effective in this persuasion task. Latting’s (1993) study, as expected, was found contrary to this study. Latting stated that “No one changes another. We cannot force others to abandon voluntarily old attitudes and habits and to act or think as we wish instead.” Though the part about not being able to “force’ others to abandon voluntarily old attitudes and habits is true, that does not mean that they cannot be persuaded to change their attitudes and habits.

This experiment has had parallel findings and opposing findings when compared to other studies. It has given a bright new concept on which to base future studies. This study has implemented many concepts to keep the reliability and validity of the study on good terms, but it does have its limitations. Since all participants used were University of Georgia students, there lies the question of whether or not the external validity of this study is high. Georgia is a southern state that has been stereotyped as a place that still has some lingering racism, and this could very well be true. Though racism can be found in all states, this researcher reasons that other northern states might not have such a high level. Also, even though UGA does have quite a diversity of students that are not all from Georgia, it still may have been more externally valid if the test could have included students and non-students from the entire country. This just wasn’t possible in this study with the resources at hand. The sample used in this study consisted of college students who were being paid. Being paid could be a factor since the participants could want to just tell the researcher what they want to hear. It may also be beneficial to use more participants than this study used so that more data could be found for each subgroup, but this increase in participant number could not have been done in this study with the resources that we had.

Future studies should use the same format in studying, but could try to modify the sample selection so that it encompasses more variety and better portrays the entire population. Future studies could also find another type of incentive other than monetary payment to obtain participants so that the previously stated limitation could be avoided. Another future concept that could be tested to support this research could be a study on sexually offensive language, maybe using other newfound forms of influential tactics, while following the same general format of this study.

In conclusion, people can be persuaded to change their views and usage of racially offensive language when certain concepts are implemented. More importantly, the rationale persuasion tactic is the most efficient in this type of conceptual situation. The effects of group size, mainly that bigger is better, has also been shown to be beneficial in persuasionary studies. This study is not a study to promote racially offensive language use, but it does show an important concept. People can be swayed away from not using or saying things that they find immoral. This study was done to show that it can be done, but its finding are proposed to be used to try to prevent the use of such slanderous terms. Such findings could be used to explain that some of the negative statements and actions that are sometimes characteristic of the “Deep South” still at present. If a person consciously knows that they can be swayed to use language that they find immoral, then maybe it can be avoided. Hopefully, this study will be used to reduce the effectiveness of persuasion in relation to people try to persuade others to do things that they find immoral. The future implications of this study could be used to create a more understanding society that is more careful when being persuaded.


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