Intergroup bias against Muslims has been an interest of LaBouff’s since the 9/11 attacks that occurred early in his college career. His initial findings in that area contained yet another paradox: People with the most bias often had the least ability to reduce that bias.
LaBouff was able to explore that paradox further when he supervised the honors thesis of Charles Bergeron, who recently graduated from UMaine with degrees in psychology and political science. Bergeron’s thesis investigated the effects of positive interaction on prejudice by asking subjects to imagine a conversation with a Muslim person.
“Some of the responses were amazingly detailed. We asked people to describe their imagined interactions and the subjects in that group described universally positive interaction with a fellow human being. They frequently learned they had something in common with them. In the other condition, most of the responses were filled with prejudicial ideas. So it was interesting to see the change in their way of thinking about people after something as small as a three-minute exercise,” says LaBouff, who will join Bergeron in presenting the data from the honors thesis at the international conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in January.