Not If, But When Do We Show Bigotry? A Study of the Interaction of Emotional Resource Depletion and Egalitarianism with Expressions of Bigotry

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Virginia Tech

Stereotypes are cognitive heuristics used by all individuals. Researchers studying bigotry have demonstrated that individuals often expose underlying stereotypical racial biases when using less effortful processing (e.g. Correll, Park, Judd, & Wittenbrink, 2002; Miarmi & DeBono, 2007). It is well-established in the resource depletion literature that acting beyond natural impulses requires self-regulation. However, the capacity for self-regulation is limited; prior acts of self-regulation deplete regulatory resources, hence temporarily decreasing the ability to self-regulate. The objective of this study was to examine if resource depletion leads to greater expressions of bigotry. More specifically, self-regulation failure was studied from the emotion resource depletion perspective. Even if resources are depleted however, some individuals may be more motivated than others to suppress their biases. Egalitarianism, a value system that emphasizes equal treatment for all, may be an individual difference that influences this motivation. Thus, egalitarianism was examined as a potential moderator of the resource depletion effect.

In the current study, 100 participants were randomly assigned to an emotion suppression or a control condition as they watched a race-relevant social injustice video. Then, participants were given the opportunity to express bigotry through responses to a survey assessing reactions to racial microaggressions. Research findings provide evidence for an emotion resource depletion effect in that individuals suppressing their emotions while watching the video expressed greater bigotry on the survey. Additionally, the results also demonstrated a negative relationship between egalitarianism and expressions of bigotry. Although the interaction effect was not found on the full sample, exploratory gender subgroup analyses suggest that gender is a potential moderator of the interaction between emotion suppression and egalitarianism on expressions of bigotry. Within the male sample, relative to participants scoring low on egalitarianism, high egalitarian participants in the emotional suppression condition showed a greater rate of emotional resource depletion due to the video and in turn showed greater levels of bigotry. In contrast, the evidence was only consistent with an egalitarianism main effect for female participants.

Thus, findings from the study demonstrate that aside from cognitive-based depleting tasks, emotion resource depletion can also lead to self-regulation failure in terms of expressions of bigotry. Although the resource depletion effect was robust, there are several limitations in this study that need to be addressed in future research. This includes collecting a more genderbalanced sample so gender can be analyzed as part of a three-way interaction to determine the impact gender had on the model. Furthermore, there was a persisting model misspecification issue; in an ongoing replication study, a measure on agreeableness has been included to assess if this was part of the missing variable problem. Finally, the two self-regulation tasks in the current study were domain-specific in the sense that they were both racially-relevant. Next steps include testing the domain-general argument of the resource depletion effect; that is, if selfregulation failure from emotion suppression would still be observed if the two self-regulation tasks were not related through the context of race.

Self-Regulation, Ego Depletion, Emotion Regulation, Bigotry, Stereotypes