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People from privileged groups may mistakenly perceive equality policies as harmful to them, even if they are beneficial.

Previous studies have found that beneficiaries often do not support interventions that redistribute their resources to others who are disadvantaged, in zero-sum scenarios where resources are limited.

Researchers have now examined the extent to which beneficiaries of equality groups believe that policies to promote equality would harm their access to resources in scenarios where strategies would benefit or have no effect on their group, while strengthening group resources. at a disadvantage.

Derek Brown at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a series of studies involving a total of more than 4,000 volunteers.

In one study, they introduced white people who are not Hispanics, with policies that do not affect their own favored group and favor a disadvantaged group to which they do not belong – people with disabilities, those who have committed a crime in the past, members of a racial minority group or women. Importantly, the team told participants that resources – in the form of jobs or money – were unlimited.

For example, a policy will direct more money to mortgage loans for Latin American home buyers, without limiting how many mortgage loans are available to white people.

Participants were then asked to rank how they felt the policy would affect the beneficiary’s access to resources on a scale ranging from very harmful to very useful. The team found that middle-class people perceive equality policies as detrimental to their access to resources, even though they have been told that resources are limitless.

“We find that favored members have mistaken these policies as a sacrifice for their group, even when they are not,” Brown said.

Researchers then asked participants to consider a win-win scenario, including equality policies that benefit both disadvantaged and disadvantaged groups – but to a lesser extent. People were also asked to consider policies to increase inequality that would reduce access to resources for all.

In this case, the team found that most beneficiaries believe that policies to increase equality for the benefit of all will be more harmful to them than policies to increase inequality, which cost the benefit group.

“We thought that maybe if we make a win-win or mutual benefit, then maybe [advantaged people] will see equality policies as useful. But they didn’t, “Brown said.

People in a better position tend to see equality policies as less detrimental to their access to resources if they benefit people who are disadvantaged but share an identity with them. For example, white participants generally thought they would lose less from a policy that directed relatively more money to disadvantaged white people than a policy that gave disadvantaged blacks the same benefits.

“People in a better position saw these policies more precisely when we highlighted the discrepancy in their own group with what was happening between the different groups,” Brown said. “This implies that when we identify with a certain group and see a discrepancy in our group, we are motivated to reduce this discrepancy in the group.

In another experiment, researchers asked a diverse group of participants to do a fake personality test and then assigned them to a composite group with priority. Again, they found that people tend to misunderstand equality policies as harmful, even when they are in favor of the beneficiary group. This suggests that anyone in the lead – for whatever reason – may mistakenly perceive useful policies to promote equality as harmful.

“What we found is quite disturbing. [But] I think people have the capacity to believe in these policies. And I think there’s a way forward, we just have to find it, “Brown said.

Education can help tackle inequalities by making people more aware of this tendency to misunderstand equality policies that would actually benefit them, Brown said.

“It was an ambitious series of studies that did an excellent job of excluding alternative explanations,” he said. Dan Migan at the University of Guelph, Canada. “The work paints a rather dark picture for those trying to persuade people to support policies designed to reduce inequalities between groups. The authors gave their participants every opportunity to see that the help of disadvantaged groups should not come at the expense of benefit groups without results.

“In terms of reliability and importance, this study checks all the boxes. What I would say is the fact that [the findings] “It’s not surprising, it’s worrying to me,” he said Shay David at Columbia University in New York.

Further work will have to determine whether the same behavior applies to people outside the United States, although Brown and David think it is likely to happen.

“My own and other people’s work has already shown that zero-sum beliefs are reproduced in many cultural contexts and among different nations, and I will not be surprised if this is the case with current work,” says David.

Reference in the magazine: Scientific achievements, DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abm2385

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