Target Responses and Strategies

A fifth moderator is the way in which the target responds during interactions (see Fig. 2.1), such as differentially perceiving or strategically reacting to discrimination. Targets may adopt perceptual strategies of either denying or overestimating discrimination. Potential victims of discrimination frequently recognize that their group is discriminated against but tend to deny the same level of personal experience with discrimination (Crosby, 1984). This denial of personal discrimination may be functional; viewing oneself as a victim can lower one's self-esteem, lead to self-blame, and threaten one's sense of control (Crocker & Major, 1994). Denying discrimination, therefore, may help targets maintain a positive self-concept. In addition, targets who complain about being victims of discrimination are disliked and highly reprimanded (Kaiser & Miller, 2001), thereby reinforcing underestimation strategies.

Alternatively, when targets feel particularly vulnerable to discrimination but still feel able to exert some control, they become hypervigilant and may overestimate the amount of discrimination directed toward them (e.g., Hebl, Foster, Mannix, & Dovidio, 2002). To the extent that minority group members are sensitive to signs of rejection, dislike, or discrimination, they may weigh the negative, subtle signals more heavily than the positive overt signals (Vorauer & Kumhyr, 2001).

Given that individuals are able in some cases to identify themselves as victims of discrimination, the strategies that they use to deal with their potential victimization also determine interpersonal and interactional outcomes. Through concealment, Goffman (1963) observed, stigmatized individuals can avoid many negative outcomes by attempting to "pass," or appear nonstigmatized. However, a preoccupation with concealment leads to impaired judgments and behaviors and to long-term health risks (Cole, Kemeny, Taylor, & Visscher, 1996).

Another strategy involves acknowledgment, the overt mentioning or disclosing of one's stigma to others (e.g., Hebl & Kleck, 2002). There may be cases in which the stigma is not able to be concealed and is the primary focus of the interaction. In this case, a direct acknowledgment may actually reduce prejudice-related thought suppression and potentially accompanying negative affect, which can oftentimes activate stereotypes and biases more strongly (e.g., Macrae et al., 1994). Acknowledgment may also lead others to believe targets are well-adjusted and to seek out interactions they would normally avoid. For targets, acknowledgment leads to increased job satisfaction and decreased job anxiety, particularly if coworkers react well to acknowledgment (Griffith & Hebl, 2002).

Still another strategy is compensation. People who perceive or anticipate discrimination may engage in a range of compensatory behaviors. In the short run, they may be especially motivated to make a good impression. Miller, Rothblum, Felicio, and Brand (1995) found that that overweight individuals who feel immediately threatened by the possibility of discrimination act in more socially skilled ways than those who do not experience such threats. In the longer run, however, people may compensate by limiting their personal investment in an organization. King, Hebl, George, and Matusik (2003) showed that women working in the construction industry who reported discrimination appeared to compensate by engaging in less organizational citizenship behaviors or prosocial behaviors while maintaining the same level of performance and job-contingent behaviors as those not experiencing discrimination.

Up to this point, we have reviewed general processes that underlie individual-level discrimination. In the next section, we build upon these general principles and illustrate how they can produce discrimination and disparities in the workplace.

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