How to Confront a Compliment? Reactions to Confrontations of Positive Stereotype Use

Mason Burns, Purdue University


Although positive stereotypes (e.g., Asians are smart) may appear complimentary, being positively stereotyped can be offensive and depersonalizing (Siy & Cheryan, 2013). Despite this potential for harm, little research has examined how to reduce positive stereotyping. The present research investigated reactions to positive stereotype confrontations of gender stereotypes, and found that they did not increase feelings of guilt or decrease gender bias relative to no confrontation. However, when participants were confronted for expressing negative stereotypes of women, they reported more guilt and less bias relative to control participants and participants who were confronted for expressing positive stereotypes (Experiment 1). Experiments 2 and 3 investigated whether confrontations could effectively reduce positive stereotyping if they explained the harm of positive stereotypes, and whether confrontations that matched individual differences of the recipient. Specifically, prior research has implicated cultural orientation (Hofstede, 1980; Triandis & Gelfand, 1998) as an important predictor in reactions to positive stereotypes (Siy & Cheryan, 2013) and bias reduction strategies (Skorinko, Lun, Sinclair, Marotta, Calanchini, & Paris, 2015). Accordingly, Experiments 2 and 3 had participants varying in cultural orientation (Individualism and Collectivism) express positive stereotypes about women (Experiment 1) or Asians (Experiment 2), before receiving a confrontation emphasizing that positive stereotypes are depersonalizing (Individuation), a confrontation explaining that positively stereotyping others can be interpersonally costly (Interpersonal Harm), or no confrontation. Neither Experiment 2 or 3 provided support for the matching hypothesis. Specifically, Experiment 1 found that confrontations were ineffective at reducing the expression of positive stereotyping, and participants’ cultural orientation was not consequential. However, Experiment 3 supports the viability of confrontation as a positive stereotype reduction strategy, and found that both the Individuation and Interpersonal Harm confrontations resulted in increased self-reported guilt and decreased positive stereotyping of Asians. Cultural orientation, again, was inconsequential in predicting confrontation effectiveness. Discussion surrounds possible explanations for differing results across experiments, and future research possibilities.




Monteith, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Behavioral psychology|Social psychology|Clinical psychology

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