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Updated 11:00 AM March 22, 2004



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E-mail for Hameed: Study shows discrimination against Arabs

A U-M study shows that people who are prejudiced against Arabs are likely to discriminate against them when they think that no one will find out.

The study used a novel errant e-mail technique. An article reporting the findings is forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

"As terrorist attacks continue around the world, prejudice and discrimination against Arabs living in the United States have increased dramatically," says Brad Bushman, lead author of the study and a social psychologist at the Institute for Social Research (ISR).

"Vandalism, assault and other highly visible forms of overt discrimination may not be common," he says. "But this study shows that people who are prejudiced against Arabs will engage in more subtle forms of discriminatory behavior when they believe they can get away with it."

For the study, Bushman and Iowa State University graduate student Angelica Bonacci sent participants an e-mail message that appeared to be intended for someone whose last name was either Hameed or Brice. Half the messages stated that the intended recipient had won a prestigious college scholarship worth tens of thousands of dollars, and requested a reply within 48 hours. The other messages said the intended recipient had not won the scholarship, and also asked for a reply within 48 hours.

The participants were 512 college students of European descent who had been tested two weeks before getting the e-mail message to assess their levels of prejudice toward Arab Americans and other racial and ethnic groups.

Those who were highly prejudiced against Arabs were 12 percent less likely to return a lost e-mail reporting that someone named Hameed had won a scholarship than they were to return a similar message delivering good news to someone named Brice.

Highly prejudiced people also were 19 percent more likely to return a lost e-mail stating that someone named Hameed had not won than they were to return a message saying someone named Brice had not won, the researchers reported. Returning a message bearing bad news, Bushman speculates, could be expected to hurt the intended recipient.

People with low prejudice scores, on the other hand, were just as likely to return a positive lost e-mail intended for recipients with an Arabic as a European surname. And they were likely to treat negative messages in the same equitable way.

The researchers found that prejudice scores were highly correlated, so that participants who disliked Arab Americans also tended to dislike African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans, although they had stronger negative feelings toward Arab Americans.

"By identifying and understanding less visible discrimination techniques, society might be better able to protect the rights of innocent Arabs and others who face covert forms of discrimination in everyday life," Bushman says.

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