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Study: how being discriminated against and devalued affects our behavior

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People who feel they're discriminated against don't just get sad, angry, or discouraged — they may act out by lying, cheating, or stealing.

That's according to a new Stanford study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, which found that people who believe they're the victims of racism, sexism, or any other form of disrespect may be more likely to engage in "anti-social behaviors."

Discrimination makes us more deviant than simply not getting what we want

Researchers gave online surveys to 1,280 Americans to look for connections between feelings of disrespect and a person's propensity to engage in delinquent behaviors. Here are some of the findings:

  • Black participants who were asked to imagine a scenario in which their boss belittled African Americans said they'd be more willing to waste their employer's time (by putting in less effort at work) or make negative comments about the company to others.
  • Female participants were asked to imagine being denied a promotion either because their boss didn't think women should be in leadership positions or because their personality wasn't right for the job. The women who contemplated being passed over because of their gender were more likely to say they'd begin doing incorrect work on purpose, starting rumors, or refusing to help coworkers.
  • White participants who felt they were devalued because of their race, gender, or religious affiliation were more likely to lash out by cheating than white participants who simply didn't get what they wanted.

Just the latest way discrimination affects people

Previous studies have shown that discrimination based on social identity can harm victims' performance, cognitive abilities, and willpower. The Stanford study's findings about antisocial behavior as a consequence of disrespect are new — but it makes perfect sense that being undervalued because of identity would affect every part of a person's life.

As Peter Belmi, one of the coauthors of the study, told the Stanford News, "When people feel that they are being viewed negatively by others simply because they belong to a particular gender, race or other group membership, they come away with the impression that others do not treat them respectfully, which in turn makes them more likely to engage in social deviance."