Restoring Equity or Introducing Bias? A Contingency Model of Attitudes Toward Affirmative Action Programs


  • 1The order of authorship is arbitrary; both authors contributed equally to the preparation of the manuscript. Portions of the article were presented at the 17th annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (April 2002). The authors thank Terry Beehr and Kevin Love for their helpful suggestions during the planning of this research.


We developed a model to explain how an individual's attitude toward the group targeted by affirmative action impacts support for the program. In this model, attitude toward the targeted group influences the extent to which an individual perceives discrimination to be responsible for workforce disparities. Perceived discrimination affects fairness judgments of affirmative action programs with the effect contingent on the extent to which the remedy involves preferential treatment. To test this, participants were told about the selection system in a company in which minorities were underrepresented. Participants evaluated the extent to which they believed that discrimination occurs in the hiring process and 3 possible remedies. Results supported attitudes toward the targeted minority group as an antecedent of perceived discrimination and found that the amount of perceived discrimination was negatively related to fairness judgments of opportunity enhancement programs, but positively related to evaluations of programs that involved preferential treatment. Fairness judgments were positively related to support for all 3 affirmative action programs.