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Yale study: White liberals use 'less competent' language with blacks — but conservatives don't

White liberals behave with less competence around black people "in an effort to get along," according to a new study by a Yale professor. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

White liberals behave with less competence around black people "in an effort to get along," according to a new study by a Yale professor.

Yale Insights offered the following summary of the study by Cydney H. Dupree, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management: "White Liberals Present Themselves as Less Competent in Interactions with African-Americans."

It's about language

The study further suggests that white Americans who hold liberal socio-political views tend to use words that make them appear less competent when they're around racial minorities — but no significant differences were seen in conservatives' word selections, the outlet added.

“It was kind of an unpleasant surprise to see this subtle but persistent effect,” Dupree told Yale Insights. “Even if it’s ultimately well-intentioned, it could be seen as patronizing.”

What does the study say is behind this behavior?

Dupree and her co-author, Susan Fiske of Princeton University, said this behavior is the result of liberals' desire to connect with other races, the outlet noted.

The authors describe it as a “competence downshift" — which occurs regardless of race when people desire to appear likeable and friendly, Yale Insights noted. However, Dupree added to the outlet that it's also possible that “this is happening because people are using common stereotypes in an effort to get along.”

More from Yale Insights:

Initial data from follow-up studies suggest that describing a black person as highly intelligent, thus reversing the stereotype, or as already highly motivated to get along with whites, thus removing the need to prove goodwill, can reduce the likelihood that a white person will downplay their competence in their interactions with the black person.

Now, Dupree is working to understand how these behaviors play out in real-world organizations: for example, whether medical professionals engage in this behavior when interacting with minority patients and how corporate executives present themselves to minority peers. She is also testing the efficacy of this possibly strategic behavior: for example, do black receivers of white liberals’ competence downshift see this behavior as demeaning or endearing?

“There’s a lot of research focused on biased individuals and how holding bias, especially implicit bias, can influence social interactions,” Dupree added to the outlet. “But that leaves a lot of people out. My hope is that this work will help include well-intentioned people who see themselves as allies but who may be unwittingly contributing to group divides. There is a broader need to include them in the conversation.”

The researchers also found that Democratic candidates used fewer competence-related words in speeches to audiences consisting mostly of minorities than in speeches to mostly white audiences, Yale Insights said.

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