Study: Multicultural messages enhance feelings of power for minority group members

Prompting individuals to reflect on multicultural principles enhances minority group members’ sense of power, according to new research.

Those who endorse multiculturalism believe society should embrace and celebrate a diversity of ethnic and cultural groups.

The four-part study, which included 518 Canadian psychology students along with 266 U.S. residents, found that exposure to pro-multicultural messages enhanced feelings of power for minority group members. Multiculturalism had no effect on feelings of power for majority group members except in one of the four experiments, where it was disempowering for dominant group members.

The study was published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Jacquie D. Vorauer of the University of Manitoba. Read her responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Vorauer: Members of ethnic minority groups face many challenges in the course of their everyday lives, including subtle and blatant discrimination, and, more broadly, threats to their social identity. In terms of steps we can take to mitigate these problems, my doctoral student Matthew Quesnel and I were intrigued by the possibility that simply directing individuals’ thoughts toward a particular intergroup ideology might have an empowering effect on these individuals. Further, there seemed to be a real gap in the literature on intergroup ideology effects: Extant research has focused on outcomes such as the positivity of intergroup attitudes and behavior, but not power-relevant outcomes – which tend to be viewed as very important by minority group members.

What should the average person take away from your study?

Thinking about multicultural principles (or even just being exposed to a multiculturalism poster on the wall!) increases minority group members’ sense of making a meaningful contribution to society and thus enhances their personal feelings of power. On the basis of what we know about the many positive consequences of a psychological sense of power, there may be numerous downstream benefits to ethnic minority individuals who perceive that they are in an environment that upholds multicultural principles.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

Although we feel that that multiculturalism’s message that ethnic minorities make a unique and valuable contribution to society is key, we need to better understand the “active ingredient” of multicultural ideology – our manipulations were multifaceted. As well, in the context of back-and-forth intergroup interaction, individuals’ assumptions about the ideology that is salient to their interaction partner may exert an important influence, which needs to be examined.

The study, “Salient Multiculturalism Enhances Minority Group Members’ Feelings of Power“, was also co-authored by Matthew S. Quesnel.