Study on racial progress and perceptions of anti-White bias fails to replicate

Some key findings from a 2014 psychology study about perceptions of discrimination against White people have failed to replicate.

The study, which was conducted while Barack Obama was president, found that White people who believed the current U.S. social hierarchy was legitimate were more likely to see themselves as victims of discrimination after reading an article about racial progress.

“I teach an advanced undergraduate research seminar in which the students identify several potential articles for replication, and choose together which article to replicate,” said Jarret T. Crawford of the College of New Jersey, the lead author of the replication study.

“My students chose this paper because a) it would be easy to collect the data through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, b) it’s implications seemed relevant to current American politics, and c) we did have some concerns about its ability to replicate given relatively small sample sizes used to test complex interaction effects, and p-values that were all fairly close to p = .05, suggesting the effects might not be reliable.”

The original study was published in Psychological Science. The replication study appears in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Crawford and his colleagues conducted a close replication of the original study using 1,353 White participants. (The replication recruited significantly more participants than the original study.)

Confirming some of the original study’s findings, the researchers found that people who endorsed status-legitimizing beliefs were more likely to perceive anti-White bias. In other words, participants who agreed with statements such as “America is a just society where differences in status between ethnic groups reflect actual group differences” tended to also agree with statements such as “Prejudice and discrimination against Whites are on the rise.”

But the researchers failed to find evidence for a key finding of the original study: that perceptions of racial progress in the United States increased the perceptions of anti-White bias among people high in status-legitimizing beliefs.

“I think there are a few takeaways, depending on what you want to emphasize. One is that replicability is still a concern in (social) psychology — these are studies published not terribly long ago in a premier psychology journal that clearly did not replicate,” Crawford told PsyPost.

“Another is that we still don’t necessarily know what explains Whites’ perceptions of anti-White bias. There is clear evidence that more politically conservative beliefs (i.e., high status-legitimizing beliefs) are associated with perceived anti-White bias (think of the type of racial resentment and White victimization someone like Tucker Carlson peddles in).”

“There is only limited evidence that racial progress is associated with these bias perceptions though (when we measure people’s beliefs about racial progress, we see the relationship; but, our manipulations did not enhance these bias perceptions). Most importantly, the original paper’s point that certain types of people (high SLBs) react to racial progress by perceiving greater amounts of anti-White bias is just not happening, at least right now,” Crawford said.

The findings cast doubt on the original study, but it does not necessarily mean the research was completely false.

“The biggest caveat of course is that it’s unclear why the studies didn’t replicate. There are a number of reasons to believe that the original studies aren’t replicable because they were false positives,” Crawford explained.

“However, another plausible explanation is that the finding did exist when the original studies were conducted under Obama’s presidency, but given seismic changes in American politics with the election of Donald Trump, it’s possible that the relationships among conservative beliefs, racial progress, and perceptions of anti-White bias have been altered.”

For example, Crawford and his colleagues found that participants’ perception of racial progress in the United States was higher in the original study than in the replication.

“Future research should try to determine the answer to this question,” Crawford said.

The study also highlights the difficulty of deciphering some replication studies.

“This replication attempt represents a microcosm of the challenges of interpreting replication studies in some areas of social psychology,” Crawford remarked. “Given that many social psychology effects may be context-dependent, when contexts change from an original study to a replication study, and the replication fails, is it because of concerns with the original study itself (i.e., false positives?) or because of the altered social context?”

The study, “Do Status-Legitimizing Beliefs Moderate Effects of Racial Progress on Perceptions of Anti-White Bias? A Replication of Wilkins and Kaiser (2014)“, was authored by Jarret T. Crawford, Shreya Vodapalli, Ryan E. Stingel, and John Ruscio.