Reactions to Witnessing Ethnic Microaggressions: An Experimental Study

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Guilford Press

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Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology

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Introduction: Minimal research has examined how witnesses identify and respond to ethnic microaggressions including the role of colorblind racial attitudes.

Method: University student participants (N = 401) were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions in which they witnessed a research decoy experiencing an ethnic microaggression, an overt discriminatory interaction, or a neutral interaction (control).

Results: The study findings showed that 46% of participants who witnessed an ethnic microaggression identified it as unfair or differential treatment compared to 84% of those who observed an overt form of discrimination. Multilevel model analyses revealed a 3-way interaction (time × experimental condition × colorblind racial attitudes) such that participants with low colorblind racial attitudes had significant increases in negative affect and systolic blood pressure after witnessing overt discrimination.

Discussion: Key differences exist in the identification and responses associated with witnessing an ethnic microaggression compared to overt discrimination. Findings suggest that shifting colorblind racial attitudes may be a promising area of intervention to improve detection of ethnic microaggressions.


Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 39, No. 2 (February 2020): 141-164. DOI.