Expressions of modern racism in judgments of others: The role of task and target specificity on attributions of guilt

Jeffrey E. Pfeifer1, Daniel J. Bernstein2
1University of Regina, Canada
2University of Kansas, United States
Cite this article:  Pfeifer, J., & Bernstein, D. (2003). Expressions of modern racism in judgments of others: The role of task and target specificity on attributions of guilt. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 31, 749-766.

Volume 31 Issue 8 | e1292 | Published: December 2003 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2003.31.8.749

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Theories of modern racism suggest that the level of prejudice toward black Americans has not decreased in recent years but rather is expressed primarily when white Americans perceive themselves to be in a state of situational (or normative) ambiguity. It is suggested that the current concept of situational ambiguity may be extended by examining distinctive underlying factors that mediate the expression of racism: task specificity and target specificity. It is argued that a significant amount of research on
racism, and its expression, has been conducted through the use of a mock-juror paradigm and, as such, 2 studies were conducted to investigate the degree to which task and target specificity influence the guilt ratings of mock jurors. In Study 1, target specificity was manipulated by varying the race and social-status level of the defendant being evaluated. In Study 2, task specificity was manipulated by varying the presence or absence of jury instructions and the subsequent interactive effects of task and target  specificity were examined. Results suggest that guilt ratings were significantly more affected by target and task specificity than by race per se, although there were race effects on ratings. Interestingly, task specificity appeared to affect responses only when target specificity was lacking. The implications of these results are discussed in terms of their contribution to the concept of modern racism.


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