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When it comes to bigotry, science says if you hear something, say something


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With the holidays coming up, you might be dreading unavoidable awkward dinner table conversations—especially that inevitable moment when one of your relatives decides to say something bigoted. But instead of just ignoring it and quickly pivoting to a more benign subject, research suggests you should speak up.

In a new study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, social psychologists Kimberly Chaney and Diana Sanchez, PhD—who are experts in the areas of confrontation, especially when it comes to all things discrimination—found calling someone out is actually likely to change future behavior. (Even though voicing your dismay can be super uncomfortable to do.)

In the first part of the study, 100 white students were shown images paired with a sentence. If the student responded saying something stereotypical, the researcher would either say something along the lines of “That’s kind of stereotypical, don’t you think?” or not say anything at all. The next week, the participants repeated the exercise with different faces and questions—and the results were telling.

“Participants who were confronted felt bad about their behavior, ruminated more, and showed an enduring prejudice reduction.” —Diana Sanchez, PhD

“We found that participants who were confronted felt bad about their behavior, ruminated more, and showed an enduring prejudice reduction,” said Dr. Sanchez in a press release. “Confronting people is hard, and unless people know it will be effective, they won’t do it.”

While ignoring someone’s problematic comment might be most comfortable for all parties involved, it could actually be a disservice that leads them to continue the same behaviors in the future. And, you know, speaking your mind might ultimately lead to some more enjoyable family dinners.

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