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I Have Nothing Against Them, But. . . -- by Leonardo Bursztyn, Ingar K. Haaland, Aakaash Rao, Christopher P. Roth

We study the use of excuses to justify socially stigmatized actions, such as opposing minority groups. Rationales to oppose minorities change some people’s private opinions, leading them to take anti-minority actions even if they are not prejudiced against minorities. When these rationales become common knowledge, prejudiced people who are not persuaded by the rationale can pool with unprejudiced people who are persuaded. This decreases the stigma associated with anti-minority expression, increasing public opposition to minority groups. We examine this mechanism through several large-scale experiments in the context of anti-immigrant behavior in the United States. In the first main experiment, participants learn about a study claiming that immigrants increase crime rates and then choose whether to authorize a publicly observable donation to an anti-immigrant organization. Informing participants that others will know that they learned about the study substantially increases donation rates. In the second main experiment, participants learn that a previous respondent authorized a donation to an anti-immigrant organization and then make an inference about the respondent’s motivations. Participants who are informed that the respondent learned about the study prior to authorizing the donation see the respondent as less intolerant and more easily persuadable.
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