Primed to Perceive Harm : People’s Responses to Ambiguous Statements as a Function of Priming
Nuck, Grace E.
Bleske-Rechek, April L.
Axelrod, Michael I.
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Microaggressions were originally defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color”. Over the past decade, awareness of microaggressions has increased and use of the term “microaggression” has spread beyond race into many domains, including gender and sexuality. In some universities, administrators and faculty distribute lists of words and phrases that students and staff are asked to refrain from using out of concern for their presumed harmful effects. Despite the good intentions of individuals on the frontlines of the microaggression movement, research on microaggressions has not provided (a) clear operational definitions of the microaggression construct; (b) rigorous evidence for the claim that microaggressions cause psychological harm to those who perceive themselves as recipients of them; or (c) evidence that individuals agree about what types of statements are – and are not – harmful. Our lab (alongside other labs around the country; see Bellet, Jones, & McNally, 2018) is beginning a series of studies to begin to operationalize the concept of microaggression. In this study, we aim to illustrate that a clear operationalization of the term is necessary by showing, experimentally, that priming individuals to perceive others’ words as harmful leads them to perceive others’ words as harmful. Thus, labeling too many things as “microaggressions” could backfire by essentially leading people, especially people who are emotionally unstable and prone to feeling victimized by others, to interpret ambiguous statements as harmful.
Department of Psychology
Color poster with text, charts, and graphs.