When are intergroup attitudes judged as free speech and when as prejudice? A social identity analysis of attitudes towards immigrants

Chris Wang, Michael J. Platow, Daniel Bar‐Tal, Martha Augoustinos, Dirk Van Rooy, Russell Spears
Published Online:
19 May 2021

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Although anti‐immigrant attitudes continue to be expressed around the world, identifying these attitudes as prejudice, truth or free speech remains contested. This contestation occurs, in part, because of the absence of consensually agreed‐upon understandings of what prejudice is. In this context, the current study sought to answer the question, “what do people understand to be prejudice?” Participants read an intergroup attitude expressed by a member of their own group (an “in‐group” member) or another group (an “out‐group” member). This was followed by an interpretation of the attitude as either “prejudiced” or “free speech.” This interpretation was also made by in‐group or an out‐group member. Subsequent prejudice judgements were influenced only by the group membership of the person expressing the initial attitude: the in‐group member's attitude was judged to be less prejudiced than the identical attitude expressed by an out‐group member. Participants' judgements of free speech, however, were more complex: in‐group attitudes were seen more as free speech than out‐group attitudes, except when an in‐group member interpreted those attitudes as prejudice. These data are consistent with the Social Identity Approach to intergroup relations, and have implications for the processes by which intergroup attitudes become legitimised as free speech instead of prejudice.

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