Who Is Responsible for Confronting Prejudice? The Role of Perceived and Conferred Authority


Perceived responsibility for responding predicts whether people confront others’ discriminatory behavior, but who is seen as and actually feels responsible for confronting prejudice? Study 1 examined whether people view status-based authority figures, stigmatized targets, or other bystanders as responsible for confronting a witnessed prejudicial remark. Results revealed that participants viewed the authority figure as most responsible for responding, and they reported feeling less personally responsible in the presence of both authorities and targets. Study 2 examined whether being in a position of authority enhances perceptions of responsibility for responding to discrimination and, in turn, facilitates confrontation. Participants who were randomly assigned to a leadership (vs. non-leader control) condition witnessed a racially insensitive remark. Leadership increased perceived responsibility, but did not significantly increase confrontation. Study 3 builds on the previous two studies by showing that leaders in actual organizations feel more responsible for confronting prejudice compared to those who are not conferred authority status. These findings extend previous studies by uncovering an important antecedent (i.e., conferred authority) of feeling responsible for addressing prejudice, which is shown to be a key factor in predicting whether bystanders confront discrimination. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Publication Title

Journal of Business and Psychology