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 S. 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.