Socio-structural and Psychological Factors Supporting the Misperception of Racial Economic Equality

Awarded Scholars:
Michael Kraus, Yale University
Jennifer A. Richeson, Yale University
Project Date:
Jan 2020
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

Although Americans generally believe that the U.S. has made significant progress toward achieving racial equality, recent research suggests that these beliefs are optimistic at best, and unfounded for some indicators of well-being. Survey respondents significantly overestimated the degree of racial progress and equity in economic domains such as income, employer-provided health benefits, and wages among high-school and college graduates. These misperceptions were especially severe in regard to black-white differences in wealth. In order to maintain such beliefs, Americans must be unaware of or discount current and historical patterns of racial discrimination in the creation and maintenance of racially disparate economic circumstances. To better understand these misperceptions, Michael Kraus and Jennifer Richeson propose to examine socio-structural factors that may underlie these misperceptions of racial economic equality, as well as the motivational and cognitive processes that support and sustain them. Their project has two key aims. First, they propose to explore the extent to which the magnitude of people’s misperceptions of racial disparities are associated with features of their local social contexts, such as the racial diversity, segregation, and degree of general economic inequality of the spaces they inhabit. Second, through a series of experimental studies, they will examine ways to make individuals’ perceptions of racial economic equality more accurate. The PIs hypothesize that if the observed misperceptions are due to motivated cognitive processes, then it should be possible to disrupt these processes and increase the accuracy with which people perceive the current state of racial economic inequality


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