People Are Aggressively Prejudiced If They Think They Won't Get Caught, Study Finds

A study suggests people act aggressively on their prejudices when they have plausible deniability.

Photo from the Milgram experiment.
Photo from the Milgram experiment.


Social norms help keep people's ugliest inclinations at bay. Racists and homophobes tend to refrain from acting on their prejudices publicly because they know they'd be punished by society in one way or another — they might lose a job, be ostracized from friends and family, or even face legal consequences.

But the power of social norms seems to crumble in situations where people feel empowered to act on their prejudices because they have plausible deniability.  


(Photo: torbakhopper via Flickr)

William Cox, a social psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his colleagues conducted a study on prejudice-based aggression using 166 undergraduate students as participants.

The students played a game against an opponent in another room, and the winner of each round would shock the loser. Researchers gave participants one of two identity-related statements that described their opponent: "I am gay" or "I like shopping." What participants didn't know, however, was that there was no opponent in the other room, and researchers had rigged the results of the game.


(Photo from the Milgram experiment)

Before playing, students were evaluated for how much they expressed concern for concealing prejudice. Students who expressed little desire to conceal prejudice tended to aggressively shock people in both groups. But something interesting happened to the subset of people who were aware of their prejudices, but wanted to keep them secret. William Cox explains:

As we predicted, these covertly prejudiced people tended to refrain from shocking the man who was confirmed as gay, but delivered extremely high levels of shocks to the man who liked shopping. If they had shocked the first man, people could accuse them of prejudice (“You shocked him because he was gay!”). But if others accused participants of prejudice in the second condition, it could be plausibly denied (“I didn’t think he was gay!”). In other words, stereotyping can give people opportunities to express prejudices without fear of reprisal. 

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
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First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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