Affirmative Action, Unintentional Racial Biases, and Intergroup Relations


  • John F. Dovidio,

    Corresponding author
    1. Colgate University
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      JOHN DOVIDIO is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Division of University Studies at Colgate University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Delaware in 1977. His research interests are in stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination; social power and nonverbal communication; and altruism and helping. With co-author Samuel L. Gaertner, he received the 1985 Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize for their work on aversive racism. Dr. Dovidio is currently Editor of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and a member of SPSSI Council.

  • Samuel L. Gaertner

    1. University of Delaware
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      SAMUEL L. GAERTNER is Professor of Psychology at the University of Delaware. He received his Ph.D. from the City University of New York, Graduate Center in 1970. Currently he is examining a strategy for reducing intergroup bias that involves inducing the members of two groups to conceive themselves as one, more inclusive group rather than as two completely separate groups. He is a member of SPSSI Council as well as of the editorial boards of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Department of Psychology, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY 13346. Electronic mail may be sent via Internet to JDOVIDIO@CENTER.COLGATE.EDU.


This paper examines whether affirmative action is still needed, investigates why it may be needed in terms of contemporary racial attitudes, and considers ways of reducing intergroup conflict and tension surrounding this issue. Although the nature of contemporary bias is more subtle than traditional forms, this unintentional bias can produce barriers to the employment and advancement of well-qualified members of historically disadvantaged groups, as well as resistance to affirmative action. Nevertheless, affirmative action policies may address contemporary biases more effectively than passive equal employment opportunity policies because they emphasize outcomes rather than intentions, provide unambiguous standards of behavior, and establish monitoring systems that insure accountability. Strategies for improving intergroup relations and reducing intergroup conflict associated with this issue are considered.