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Sara Konrath & Norbert Schwarz. Summary: In this study we found that people rated African-Americans as a group more positively, but an African-American leader more negatively, on MLK Day as compared to control days. MLK Day and attitude change:.

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Sara Konrath & Norbert Schwarz


In this study we found that people rated African-Americans as a group more positively, but an African-American leader more negatively, on MLK Day as compared to control days

MLK Day and attitude change:

Liking the group more, but specific exemplars less


  • Method:
  • Design:
  • Between-subjects: Participants were randomly assigned to complete the survey either 2 weeks before, during, or 2 weeks after MLK Day 2004
  • Within subjects: Ratings of African-Americans as a group and an individual African-American (Colin Powell). These were presented in counterbalanced order.
  • Participants:
  • 1366 email addresses were randomly selected from our student directory
  • All were sent an email inviting them to complete a short online survey about “Current Issues,” of which 199 responded (14.6% response rate)
  • Mean age: 22.78 (range: 18-46)
  • Ethnicity: 80.4% Caucasion, 7.5% Asian-American, 1.5% African-American, rest “other” or blank
  • Measures:
  • Ratings of group: Items from the modern racism scale (McConahay, 1986) were used to determine attitudes toward African-Americans as a group
  • e.g. “Discrimination against Blacks still a problem in the U.S. today” (higher agreement indicates more favorable group attitudes)
  • Ratings of individual: Participants were asked how they feel about a specific African-American exemplar, Colin Powell (1=dislike him a lot; 9= like him a lot)
  • Other: Additional questions (e.g. about the economy) were asked to ensure our cover story was believable
  • Introduction:
  • Martin Luther King was a 1960s civil rights activist honored with a national holiday 15 years after his assassination
  • This study examined the effect of MLK Day on student’s attitudes towards African-Americans, both as a group and individually
  • Theoretical background:
  • Exposure to well-liked African-American exemplars can increase favorability toward African-Americans as a group (Bodenhausen et al., 1995)
  • However, others have suggested that exposure to idealized African-Americans may decrease favorability toward individual group members because they may be contrasted against such a high standard (Gates, 1989; Jhally & Lewis, 1992)
  • This is in line with Schwarz & Bless’ (1992) inclusion / exclusion model of assimilation and contrast, which assigns an important role to category structure:
  • Assimilation effects: emerge when the
  • primed exemplar is included in the
  • representation formed of the group
  • (superordinate category)
  • Contrast effects: emerge when the
  • primed exemplar serves as a standard
  • for evaluating other exemplars (lateral
  • categories)
  • Using this model, we tested the prediction that after exposure to MLK (during the MLK Day holiday), individuals would rate African-Americans as a group more positively, while simultaneously rating a specific African-American leader more negatively
  • Results:
  • Participants overall rated African-Americans as a group more positively on MLK Day than before or after it, but rated Colin Powell more negatively on MLK Day as compared to the control days
  • Conclusions:
  • Under real-life conditions of exposure to MLK, without any reminder to participants of the MLK Day holiday, we found our predicted assimilation and contrast effects
  • Consistent with past research:
  • -Group evaluations assimilated to
  • the primed exemplar
  • -Individual evaluations contrasted
  • with the primed exemplar
  • The predicted effects were only observed for participants who attended an MLK Day event, thus ensuring a strong priming manipulation
  • Considerations:
  • Numerous events surrounding MLK Day may prime more than Martin Luther King, so it is necessary to conduct analogous studies in more controlled settings
  • Future directions:
  • We are currently conducting laboratory studies in order to replicate this effect

*Target X Date interaction, F(2,183)=4.49, p=.012

  • This pattern was only found in participants who attended (or planned to attend) an MLK Day special event (N=59)
  • Participants who did not attend an event showed no attitude change over the three time periods toward either African-Americans as a group or the specific exemplar

Group contrast: t(56)=3.01, p=.004; Exemplar contrast: t(56)= -1.98, p=.053