treatment conditions; and (3) control over extraneous variables that otherwise might be confounded with the independent variable of interest, potentially undermining the interpretation of causality. Laboratory experiments occur in a controlled setting, chosen for its ability to minimize confounding variables and other extraneous stimuli.
Laboratory experiments on discrimination would ideally measure reactions to the exact same person while manipulating only that person’s race. As noted above, while strictly speaking one cannot manipulate the actual race of a single person, experimenters do typically either manipulate the apparent race of a target person or randomly assign subjects or study participants to the experimental condition while attempting to hold constant all other attributes of possible relevance. One common method of varying race is for experimenters to train several experimental confederates—both black and white—to interact with study participants according to a prepared script, to dress in comparable style, and to represent comparable levels of baseline physical attractiveness (see, e.g., Cook and Pelfrey, 1985; Dovidio et al., 2002; Henderson-King and Nisbett, 1996; Stephan and Stephan, 1989). Another common method of varying race involves preparing written materials and either incidentally indicating race or attaching a photograph of a black or white person to the materials (e.g., Linville and Jones, 1980).
Effects of race occur in concert with other situational or personal factors, called moderator variables, that may increase or decrease the effect of race on the participants’ responses. In addition to manipulating a person’s apparent race, for example, investigators may manipulate the person’s apparent success or failure, cooperation or competition, helpfulness, friendliness, dialect, or credentials (see, e.g., Cook and Pelfrey, 1985; Dovidio et al., 2002; Henderson-King and Nisbett, 1996; Linville and Jones, 1980; Stephan and Stephan, 1989). Even more often, experimenters will manipulate features of the situation expected to moderate levels of bias toward black and white targets; examples involve anonymity, potential retaliation, norms, motivation, time pressure, and distraction (Crosby et al., 1980). Finally, the study participants frequently are black and white college students (e.g., Crosby et al., 1980; Correll et al., 2002; Judd et al., 1995).
Strengths of Laboratory Experiments
Laboratory experiments, if well designed and executed, can have high levels of internal validity for causal inference—that is, they are designed to measure exactly what causes what. The direction of causality follows from the manipulation of randomly assigned independent variables that control for two kinds of unwanted, extraneous effects: systematic (confounding) variables and random (noise) variables.
In an ideal world, people would be equal in rights, opportunities, and responsibilities, despite their race or gender. In the world we live in, however, we constantly face all kinds of neglect based on different attributes. All over the world, certain people treat others with prejudice because of particular features they possess. Unfortunately, this happens even in places which, by definition, should be free of all personal prejudices—specifically, in offices and other business surroundings. This phenomenon is called workplace discrimination; not every unfair behavior at work, however, can be assessed as discrimination.
What exactly is workplace discrimination? It can be defined as a less favorable treatment towards an individual or a group of individuals at work, usually based on their nationality, skin color, sex, marital status, age, trade union activity, or other defining attributes (Australian Human Rights Commission). It can appear as a denial of certain rights, negligent treatment, intentional underestimating of a worker’s personality or work results and achievements, and so on. A person can be discriminated by their employers, or by their coworkers as well. Discrimination can result into severe psychological consequences for the victim, such as emotional stress and anxiety. Discrimination often causes an employee to leave the workplace, resign from a position, or in severe cases, to commit suicide, or act violently against the discriminators.
Workplace discrimination can take more open and threatening forms, which are known as workplace harassment. It occurs when an employee is made to feel intimidated, insulted, or humiliated, based on such features as race, ethnic origin, gender, physical or mental disability, or on any other characteristic specified under legislation (AHRC). The two most radical forms of workplace harassment are the application of physical violence or sexual harassment—women are especially exposed to this kind of discrimination. Workplace violence can take several forms: the direct exercise of physical force against a worker which causes or could cause injuries to the worker; an attempt to exercise physical force; or a statement or behavior which a worker can reasonably interpret as a threat to exercise physical force (Ontario Ministry of Labor). Sexual harassment can take the form of obscene jokes and allusions; intrusive body contact; inappropriate gestures, or even direct actions aimed at sexual contact.
There are several ways to deal with workplace discrimination; such measures can be held both on the individual and on the collective level. Individuals who have experienced discrimination or harassment at work are recommended to stand firm under verbal attacks, remain confident about their own abilities and judgments, and try not to stay alone with the abusive person (UnionSafe). At the same time, collective measures can be taken as well. They usually include calling for a meeting in a quiet, confidential place in order to admit and discuss the problem; complaining to competent authorities; developing respective policies together with sanctions applied in case there is an infringement enacted by workers.
Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world, and not all people can enjoy equal opportunities and rights. This refers not only to our personal lives, but to our working environment as well; employees can be discriminated and abused because of certain features they possess, such as the color of skin, their ethnicity or gender, age, marital status, disabilities, and so on. To eliminate workplace discrimination, both individual and collective preventive measures should be made.
“What is Workplace Discrimination and Harassment?” Australian Human Rights Commission. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 July 2013. <http://www.humanrights.gov.au/what-workplace-discrimination-and-harassment>.
“Preventing Workplace Violence and Workplace Harassment.” Ontario Ministry of Labor. N.p., July 2011. Web. 05 July 2013. <http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/sawo/pubs/fs_workplaceviolence.php>.
“Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace.” UnionSafe. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 July 2013. <http://unionsafe.labor.net.au/hazards/10717236108849.html>.
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