How Implicit Attitudes Relate to Beliefs About Multiculturalism and Colorblindness

By Jordan Axt

The two main approaches to promoting organizational diversity are multiculturalism and colorblindness. In multiculturalism, group differences are acknowledged and celebrated with the goal of creating an atmosphere of respect for all groups or cultures. In colorblindness, group differences are ignored in the hopes of assuring everyone receives equal treatment.

These two belief systems are both popular and carry their own potential strengths and weaknesses. One interesting question is how support for either diversity ideology, multiculturalism versus colorblindness, relates to individuals’ explicit and implicit preferences (specifically, their preferences for culturally dominant groups over minority groups, such as preferences for White over non-White people). A recent meta-analysis in Personality and Social Psychology Review looked at how these belief systems relate to individuals’ explicit and implicit preferences in more than 100 studies.

The researchers looked separately at correlational studies (i.e., those that only measured support for colorblindness or multiculturalism and preferences) and experimental studies (i.e,. those that tried to increase or decrease support for either colorblindness or multiculturalism, and then measured preferences).

In correlational studies, people with weaker explicit preferences for the majority group more strongly supported both multiculturalism and colorblindness, perhaps because people with stronger pro-majority preferences don't support either. Unfortunately, there were no studies that assessed implicit attitudes and support for colorblindness, but as with explicit preferences, lower levels of implicit pro-majority group preferences were associated with higher levels of support for multiculturalism.

The results were a bit more complicated for experimental studies that sought to increase or decrease support for the multicultural or colorblind approaches to diversity in order to see if that causes a change in pro-majority group preferences. They found that increasing belief in colorblindness did not have any effect on implicit or explicit preferences.

For multiculturalism, manipulations that were relatively abstract (for example, talking about how multiculturalism can increase group harmony) decreased both implicit and explicit preferences for the majority group. However, multiculturalism manipulations that were more concrete (for example, such as highlighting each group's right to speak their own language at work), increased implicit and explicit preferences.

These findings add nuance to our understanding about diversity-related beliefs. For one, the findings suggest that supporting either approach is associated with lower preferences for the majority group, though effects were larger for multiculturalism. This result is inconsistent with a belief that people high in prejudice may support colorblindess as a way of downplaying or ignoring issues related to diversity.

Second, the way in which multiculturalism is presented has important implications for whether multiculturalism decreases or increases group-based preferences. Presenting the issue more abstractly may be a more effective route for decreasing preferences for majority groups, though it is possible that such a strategy simply ignores the practical consequences of embracing multiculturalism. Reducing prejudice through manipulating support for either colorblindness or multiculturalism may be more difficult than people think.