How Believing in Affirmative Action Quotas Protects White Men’s Self-Esteem

How Believing in Affirmative Action Quotas Protects White Men’s Self-Esteem

By
Miguel M. Unzueta, Brian Lowery, Eric D. Knowles
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. January
2008, Vol. 105, Issue 1, Pages 1–13

We propose that White men derive a psychological benefit from believing that affirmative action is a quota-based policy. Three studies provide evidence that quota beliefs protect White men’s self-esteem by boosting their sense of self-competence. Study 1 found a positive relationship between quota beliefs and self-esteem that was mediated by self-perceived competence. In Studies 2 and 3, the belief in affirmative action quotas—whether measured or experimentally manipulated—protected White men’s self-esteem from self-image threatening feedback. Only participants who did not believe in quotas reported a lower self-esteem after being told they had performed poorly on an intelligence test. As in Study 1, this effect was mediated by self-perceived competence. In all, these studies suggest that the belief that affirmative action is a quota policy may persist, in part, because it benefits White mens’ self-esteem.