Racial discrimination can affect people’s response to email surveys


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania — Racial bias can unconsciously seep into many aspects of life, causing people to unknowingly act in discriminatory ways. Even when not ill-intentioned, this type of discrimination can have serious consequences – and a new study suggests it may extend to the way we communicate electronically.

In a study of a quarter of a million people in the United States, researchers found that Americans were less likely to respond to an email survey appearing to be from someone thought to be black than someone thought to be white. . This was true across all racial groups except black Americans, who were just as likely to respond to a black person as to a white person.

Ray Block — Brown-McCourtney professor of career development at the McCourtney Institute and associate professor of political science and African American studies at Penn State — said the findings help illustrate the everyday discriminations people of color face. often faced.

“More blatant types of racism like physical abuse and verbal abuse are definitely an issue, but we wanted to look at the more subtle, less extreme things that tend to build up over time,” Block said. “It’s the microaggressions and indignities that add up over the course of a person’s life. Microaggressions are little things that need to be taken into account, because we believe that little things matter.

The study was published today (December 20) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to the researchers, while there has been much previous research on more overt forms of racism like racial violence and stereotyping against minority groups, fewer studies have been done on smaller, more common forms of racism. racial discrimination.

For the study, the researchers contacted 250,000 email addresses taken from a national voter registration list and a commercial mailing list. Participants included Asian American/Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic/Latino, and White respondents, and the percentage breakdowns for these racial groups reflected current population breakdowns.

The email asked recipients to volunteer to take a survey on contemporary political issues by clicking on a link in the email.

The emails were designed to appear as if they were sent by either an ostensibly black name or an ostensibly white name. Names were selected based on whether they were considered primarily black or white in government records and whether they were generally perceived as black or white by the public in previous searches.

All recipients received two emails – one from an assumed black sender and the other from an assumed white sender. All recipients received two emails with an invitation to complete the survey, spaced a few weeks apart. If the first email was sent by a supposed black sender, the second was from a supposed white sender. In this way, each participant received each condition of the experiment.

The researchers then determined whether people were more likely to open the email and click on the survey link from black or white senders.

“Many previous studies of racial beliefs have focused on attitudes, where researchers asked people about their feelings about minority groups,” Block said. “But in these types of studies, people are often hiding or not being really honest about their beliefs. Our measure of discrimination is behavioral. We don’t care what people say, we care what people say. people do.

Overall, 1.6% of participants responded to the sender assumed to be white and 1.4% responded to the sender assumed to be black. This resulted in the black sender receiving 3,620 replies and the white sender receiving 4,007 replies. This meant that the probability that the white sender would receive a reply was about 15.5% higher than the probability that the black sender would receive a reply.

“Our definition of discrimination has nothing to do with bad intent and everything to do with disproportionate treatment in one way or another,” Block said. “And we found that. Additionally, we have always found this result by breaking it down by geographic region. People might assume that discrimination may be worse in some parts of the country, but we didn’t find that.

Going forward, the research team said they plan to continue studying the data collected. Since the survey participants were asked to complete was a real survey, researchers will also be able to review the survey content for other results.

“Since we were able to capture people’s tendency to discriminate in this study, we could use this information when we analyze the responses to the actual questionnaire,” Block said. “What if discrimination was correlated with partisanship, what if it was correlated with opinions about politics? Future research can explore these and related questions.

Charles Crabtree, Dartmouth College; John B. Holbein, University of Virginia; and J. Quin Monson of Brigham Young University also assisted in this work.

The National Science Foundation and the Brigham Young University College of Family Home and Social Sciences helped support this research.


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