November 2015

Suspicion of White People’s Motives Relates to Relative Accuracy in Detecting External Motivation to Respond without Prejudice

Jennifer LaCosse
Taylor Tuscherer
Jonathan W. Kunstman
E. Ashby Plant
Brenda Major

As a result of prevalent pressure to inhibit prejudice, racial minorities may wonder whether White people’s nonprejudiced behavior is primarily motivated by personal commitments to egalitarianism (i.e., internal motivation) or superficial efforts to appear nonprejudiced (i.e., external motivation). The present work investigated whether minority group members chronically suspicious of White people’s motives (i.e., those who believe White people are more externally than internally motivated), are more accurate than those who are less suspicious in detecting the motives behind White individuals’ pleasant behavior toward minorities. Minority participants viewed four videos of White targets engaging in dyadic interracial interactions with a Black peer and evaluated the White targets’ motivations. Compared to those low in suspicion, those high in suspicion were more accurate at assessing White targets’ actual levels of external motivation. Hence, suspicion seems to carry some functional benefit as it attunes minority-group members to Whites’ externally motivated positivity.