Effects of atypical exemplars on racial beliefs: Enlightened racism or generalized appraisals

Galen V. Bodenhausen*, Norbert Schwarz, Herbert Bless, Michaela Wänke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

168 Scopus citations


Although African-Americans as a group are economically disadvantaged compared to the white majority group, there are numerous salient counterexamples of black influence. How do media images of highly successful African-Americans affect Whites′ beliefs about the economic or political status of African-Americans as a whole? Three experiments are reported that begin to address this question by surreptitiously activating thoughts about specific exemplars of African-American success and observing the consequences for a measure of perceived discrimination against Blacks. Contrary to the Enlightened Racism perspective, which claims that images of affluent African-Americans are taken by white audiences as evidence of a lack of discriminatory barriers to black success, Experiment 1 revealed that prior activation of a successful, well-liked black exemplar resulted in increased perceptions of discrimination in contemporary society. Experiment 2 replicated this effect and showed further that it is limited to successful exemplars who are well liked; successful exemplars about whom subjects had more neutral attitudes did not produce any changes in perceptions of discrimination. Finally, Experiment 3 showed that the effect of successful, well-liked exemplars vanishes when people first think about the fact that the exemplars are atypical members of the group. These findings are discussed in terms of a generalized appraisal process in which momentarily salient outgroup exemplars influence intergroup attitudes, which in turn affect judgments and beliefs about the group via an attitude heuristic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-63
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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