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The Transmission of Social Bias

Past research on gender discrimination has traditionally focused on understanding the direct influence of individuals’ gender prejudice (e.g., sexism). But prejudice can also manifest indirectly. Non-prejudiced individuals sometimes serve as vessels for the transmission of others’ prejudice. People often accommodate or adhere to others’ unpalatable views, such as sexism or racism. In one line of research at SRBL, we investigate these attitude accommodation processes, seeking to understand how and why people pass along the perceived social biases of others.

For example, in one project, we examine the “third-party prejudice effect,” a phenomenon in which people make discriminatory hiring decisions because they are concerned with maximizing the fit between the new hire and the existing company members (Vial, Brescoll, & Dovidio, 2019). These concerns stem from the perceived formal demands of the hiring manager role, which promote the accommodation of the inferred prejudices of others. The studies revealed that, regardless of their own attitudes toward women in the workplace, people in charge of making a hiring decision were less likely to hire a woman if they had reason to believe that someone in the organization harbored sexist attitudes. The studies also showed that assuaging role-relevant concerns about organizational fit can reduce people’s tendency to accommodate others’ prejudice in hiring decisions.


These findings have important theoretical implications, as they shed light on the way that gender bias spreads in organizations, and they highlight the influence of beliefs about roles (in this case, role-related duties and demands) in producing social inequalities. A focus on this process of attitude accommodation also has important practical implications, as it shifts attention away from trying to influence people’s own attitudes (which has proven to be quite difficult) and instead it strongly suggests that efforts should be directed towards addressing the motivations at the root of people’s tendency to accommodate others’ prejudice.

Vial, A. C., Brescoll, V. L., & Dovidio, J. F. (2019). Third-party prejudice accommodation increases gender discrimination. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 117(1), 73-98. doi: 10.1037/pspi0000164. PDF.

Further research on the transmission of social biases:

Vial, A. C. (2023). A goal-directed approach to understand how social relational contexts lead to biased decision-making. Manuscript in preparation.

Vial, A. C., Bailey, A. H., & Dovidio, J. F. (2024). People who accommodate others' sexist views are themselves perceived to be sexist. Psychology of Women Quarterly. Advance online publication. PDF.

Vial, A. C., Bosak, J., Flood, P., & Dovidio, J. F. (2021). Individual variation in role construal predicts responses to third-party biases in hiring contexts. PLoS ONE, 16(2): e0244393. PDF.

Vial, A. C., Dovidio, J. F., & Brescoll, V. L. (2019). Channeling others' biases to meet role demands. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 82, 47-63. PDF.

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