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Experiencing Discrimination: How Members of Disadvantaged Groups Can Be Helped to Cope with Discrimination


  • Part of the research reported was carried out when the first and second author were at Leiden University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Katherine Stroebe, Grote Kruissstraat 2/1, 9712 TS Groningen, The Netherlands [e-mail:]. Manuela Barreto, Centre for Social Research and Intervention (CIS-ISCTE), Lisbon University Institute, Av. Forcas Armadas 1649-026, Lisbon, Portugal [e-mail:]. Naomi Ellemers, Leiden University, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden, The Netherlands [e-mail:].


Instances of discriminatory treatment are often ambiguous. Nevertheless, for policy makers to effectively combat discrimination, its targets first need to see that it takes place. Different motives determine whether or not targets see their negative outcomes as resulting from discrimination: to see the world as a just place where people are treated fairly, and to maintain a positive view of the self. We argue that the type of policy needed to combat discrimination is different, depending on which of these motives plays a role. Based on relevant literature and our own recent research, we develop a framework that specifies how different types of threat and different motives are raised when discrimination is perceived as rare or pervasive. We describe the pitfalls associated with each type of threat and the coping strategies people use to deal with rare versus pervasive discrimination. We also outline how policy makers can take advantage of this knowledge to tailor specific measures to the different motives we distinguish, to optimize the effectiveness of their interventions designed to combat discrimination.