Suggested References
Relevant Links


Key terms:stereotypes, attributions, discrimination, September 11th, intergroup relations, social power


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Stereotype Implications from September 11th

By: Abigail C. Ross


Thank you for visiting my site. First and foremost I would like to thank Professor Ossoff and the rest of the Psychology department, my experimental class, and my friends for giving me unwavering support and guidance throughout this process.Lastly, thanks to my Mom, David, Nanny, Ethan, Allison, Lydia and Zachary for the endless amounts of love and support that you provided throughout my thesis and my life.Thank you all.

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On September 11, 2001, a multi-pronged terrorist attack changed millions of lives forever.Given the research on group membership and intergroup relations as well as group stability and justification of stereotypes, it is hypothesized that because of the high rate of emotion and the many detrimental effects of September 11th more negative attributions of blame will be made towards those of Arab descent than to Caucasians.Specific types of attributions are also researched to see how attributions are made about Middle Easterners.Social power also contributes to the types of attributions that are made about people, as does social desirability, therefore each of these aspects are explored as well to assess their applicability to the current study.

To examine the hypothesis the current study divided participants into two conditions, a control group (n=77) and an experimental group (n=73).Participants in each condition read two different conflict scenarios, one with an equal power situation, student/student, and one with an unequal power situation, student/professor. In the experimental condition participants received scenarios with one character of Middle Eastern descent and one of Caucasian descent, while the control group received scenarios with only Caucasian characters.Participants then answered questionnaires pertaining to who they attributed the blame, the types of attributions they made about that individual, as well as a social desirability questionnaire to control for self-report bias (Crowne & Marlow, 1960).Manipulation and suspicion checks were also utilized for assurance that the stimuli were correctly perceived.

Frequency results indicate that, contrary to the hypothesis, neither scenario had higher levels of attributions of blame towards those of Middle Eastern descent.Further ANCOVA examination found significance for attributions in the Caucasian student and Caucasian professor conflict in scenario 2; they were more global and stable. It was concluded that the amount of familiarity and predictability about Caucasians is higher and more relevant in social power situations.Future research should concentrate on the aspects of familiarity, predictability and uncertainty with interpersonal conflict relations.

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On September 11, 2001, millions of lives were changed forever.A multi-pronged terrorist attack planned by Al Queda, a radical Islamic group led by Osama Bin Laden, killed between three and four thousand people (Pyszczynski, Solomon & Greenberg, 2002). Immediately following these horrific acts a high fear among the masses occurred as well as more restrictions on civil rights and liberties (Sanadjian, 2002).The discovery that it was Muslim volunteers who perpetrated these events resulted in the harassment of many Middle Easterners in the United States (Buell, 2002). This discovery has primed many negative stereotypes towards those of Arab descent.Many Muslims and Arab-Americans now fear harassment or assault from the angry and confused masses of the American public (Gill, 2001).In the annual “Stereotypes and Civil Liberties” study, it was found that anti-Muslim incidents had heightened to a scary 43% in comparison to results taken prior to September 11, 2001 (Durrani, 2002).The purpose of this study is to examine these stereotypes that led to the reoccurring hate crimes post 9/11.

When stating an opinion or taking a stance on an issue such as September 11th group association and membership occurs. Generally people become a group by assessing the commonalties that they have with one another.After these groups are formed intragroup relations, relations between group members, as well as intergroup relations, relations between groups, occur (Postmes, & Branscombe, 2002). This idea of interdependence on group members, and the relationship that one has to a group is a driving force and influence on the beliefs and actions of an individual.Studies have shown that this influence is greater because of a psychological well being connected with strong in-group ties, especially in racially segregated areas (Postmes, & Branscombe, 2002). 

The firm establishment of groups is also easily reflected in the proud group membership of the patriotic American. This pride or sense of belonging is conducive to seeing the similarities among others to keep group membership consistent and stable. In various studies it is been found that a strong sense of patriotism is significantly correlated with negative feelings towards members of the out-group, namely foreigners (Phinney, et. al., 1997).Once a group identity is firmly established such as the “patriotic American people”, its beliefs, such as being proud and standing up for one’s country, are firm as well (Hogg & Abrams, 2001). Therefore, those who are not like perceived as patriotic, or as the stereotypical American, are viewed as the out-group.The present study investigates the strength of the relationship between the in-group of the American people and how they view the out-group, those of Middle Eastern descent. 

One factor that aids in the establishment of in-groups and out-groups is that of social categorization. Social categorization is the forming of schemas, sets of attributes about behavior and personality, which enable people to represent groups with a prototype (Hogg & Abrams, 2001).The prototype may be that all Muslims are terrorists; therefore all attributes associated with terrorists will be associated with Muslims as well.These prototypes dictate what individuals and groups think about others. Individual thoughts, attitudes and behaviors are deindividualized, thus decisions are no longer based on how that individual feels, but on group ideals instead (Hogg & Abrams, 2001). Also, by maintaining the conformity and consistency of a group stance on a social issue, group membership itself is also enhanced.

The ability to attribute blame to the out-group in conflict situations arises from three different aspects of attributions, whether they are internal or external, global or specific, or stable or unstable (Johnson, Mullick, & Mulford, 2002).Attributions generally begin with whether or are not the person or group’s actions are perceived as internal (whether the event occurs because of an internal decision) or external (if it is determined by an external situational factor).Generally groups will attribute out-groups actions as more negative because their actions are perceived as internally generated, while in-groups negative behaviors are generally attributed to external and situational factors (Ansari, 1956). Whether or not a behavior seems to be global (one that would occur in all situations) or specific (one that would only happen in specific situations), is another factor that effects attributions (Abramson, Seligman & Teasdale 1978).The final contributing factor to how attributions are formulated is whether they are perceived as stable (one with and enduring cause) or unstable (the cause is thought of as temporary) (Abramson et. al., 1978).Attributions have an important role within the present study since attributions of blame are the initial effects being looked at, but how the blame is attributed is a secondary effect that will be examined as well.

Another factor that can affect how attributions are made is that of social power (Labovitz, & Hagedorn, 1975).With social power usually comes social influence; it is this influence that can affect the way people act and attribute behaviors (Stahelski & Paynton, 1995). The status of an individual can be a predictor of the type and the amount of social power that is used in a situation (Stahelski & Paynton 1995).The different aspects of social power are important to take into account with the present study because of the different power situations in the conflict scenarios.Due to the social identity that most individuals have, social power is an easily recognizable entity, be it the difference between a boss and an employee, or a student and a professor, for example (Stahelski & Paynton, 1995).The different relationships that social power can facilitate are an important consideration in the present study because of the differing power situations within the scenarios.It may be that the degree to which the negative stereotypes are primed, and their resulting negative attributions, is a function of the level of social power of those in the conflict situation.Labovitz and Hagedorn consider the influence of social power in their structural-behavioral theory of intergroup antagonism (1975).Their theory is that social power and in-group status (e.g., a mother teaching her child, a professor teaching a class) combine to affect the development of individual’s attitudes, which leads to intergroup antagonism (Labovitz, & Hagedorn, 1975). Their emphasis on social power and how an individual in a higher social power position has a strong influence on others is especially important to this study because of the direct reference to how this influence can affect the development of stereotypes and discriminations (Labovitz, & Hagedorn, 1975). 

In the present study participants were asked to read conflict vignettes and complete a questionnaire to assess the degree of influence that stereotypes have on attributions. There are many things that can influence opinions, therefore researchers who rely on self-report data need to consider the potential for bias from numerous sources; research setting and the attitudes of researchers are among the many possibilities.One of the largest influences on self-reports is that of social desirability, the tendencies for participants to give answers that make them seem more appealing (Vispoel, & Forte, 2000).

Ultimately, all of these aforementioned factors contribute to the priming and acceptance of stereotypes.Rigid, oversimplification of schemas, where attributes are negatively assigned to groups and rationalized by group support cause many discriminatory behaviors (Ansari, 1956).The behaviors spurred on by stereotypes, such as the hate crimes that have occurred post September 11th, can cause the deaths of innocents and the label of guilty to those not associated with the problem. It is important for fields like psychology to explore the implications of these stereotypes in a controlled fashion.

The importance of this study is apparent because of the rise of hate crimes and the large amount of emotions connected to the bombing of the World Trade Centers.By looking at the problem in a controlled fashion the amount and way that attributions are made towards those of Middle Eastern descent can be measured.It is hypothesized that because of the high rate of emotion and the many detrimental effects of September 11th more negative attributions of blame will be made about those of Arab descent than about Caucasians.

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One hundred and fifty people (112 women and 38 men, mean age = 18.78 years) from a small, Catholic, liberal arts college participated in this study.All participants were members of a general psychology class who participated in this study for course credit. The participants were predominantly white.

Procedure and Materials

Participants were given a packet containing two conflict scenarios with questions that followed pertaining to who they attributed the blame to in each conflict, as well as the types of attributions made about these individuals (see Appendix A).The Crowne & Marlow Social Desirability Scale (1960) was also employed because of its proven reliability in demonstrating an individual’s social desirability (see Appendix B).A manipulation and suspicion check were also used to see whether the stimuli were perceived as expected and to insure that the participant did not know what the researcher was testing for (see Appendix C & D).Upon completion a feedback statement was given to participants to increase awareness about the issue, as well as to encourage confidentiality to assure the integrity of the research (see Appendix E).

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Contrary to the hypothesis, frequencies indicate that for scenario 1 most people blamed Eric as the perpetrator of the conflict in each set of scenarios regardless of condition. In scenario 2, also contrary to the hypothesis, more people found the Caucasian student Joey to be at blame in each group as opposed to the professor regardless of race (See Figure 1). 

Figure 1 

Frequencies of attributions of blame for scenario 1 and scenario 2 between control groups and experimental groups 

ANCOVA results indicate that for the unequal social power situation significance was found on the stable/unstable dependent variable, F (1,138)=5.19, p= .024, as well as on the global/specific dependent variable, F (1,138)=4.07, p= .046. (See Table 2) 

Table 2

Mean attribution scores for the ANCOVA of social power by race with social desirability as the covariate





Note. The higher the score, the greater the attribution mean.
StudC and StudA stand for Caucasian student and Arab student; 

ProfC and ProfA abbreviate Caucasian professor and Arab 


*p <.05

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When speculating why these results occurred it is easily said that people perceive equal and unequal power situations differently.Research on social conflict has found that people focus more on the issues than on the consequences that may come from an uneven social power situation (Boulding, 1999).When social influence is stronger the beliefs and messages given are paid more attention and often more adhered to for the maintenance of in-group status, which may have occurred in the unequal power situations in the present study (Labovitz & Hagedorn, 1975). Social desirability may be a more prominent feature for two people on equal social power levels, especially when they are students, because one wants to be perceived as desirable amongst his/her peers.

Also, causal attributions change with development, the older a child gets the less likely external factors influence an adolescent’s view on task outcomes, and the more familiarity the greater the influence on outcomes (Normandeau & Gobeil, 1998).Developing strategies to deal with tasks and conflicts change with age, which applies to the results concerning scenario 1 because both characters in the conflict were students. Therefore participants may have taken race less into account as the cause of conflict, and seen age as a more important factor.This effect, perceiving the character development as more important than the race, helps explain why there were no significant attributions made when comparing the two races in the first scenario.

In scenario 2, the attributions of blame were also contrary to the hypothesis.Yet when subsequent ANCOVA analyses were made to see how people attributed blame, unlike the equal power scenario, scores indicated that participants made more stable and global attributions about the Caucasian student/Caucasian Professor scenario.The reasons why this may have occurred could be that the Caucasian professors are looked at as more socially attractive, expert, and trustworthy because most students have had more contact with Caucasian professors. Therefore this higher exposure could lead to more positive attributions about Caucasians because of the very important role that social influence has (Dorn, 1984).

This is also consistent with the study done by Phinney et al. (1997) where one of the most influential factors for individuals’ social identification was ethnic identity; therefore the participants may have felt more comfortable making attributions that were stable and global about people with similar ethnic backgrounds.Since many students’ exposure to Middle Easterners has solely been through the events of September 11th their perceptions of this race may be quite different.Also, with the high emotional rise of patriotism since September 11th (Kelley, 2001) the similarity of patriotic American backgrounds may cause familiarity of race to be an even more important aspect when making attributions.Lower familiarity and predictability about the Arab characters and higher familiarity and predictability with the Caucasian characters may be manifesting itself though global and stable attributions about the characters that the participants are most familiar with, and the lack of these attributions towards the Arab character may be reflective of the fear and feelings of insecurity and uncertainty about Middle Eastern people.

How people make attributions about Middle Easterners is an important aspect of society to examine. It can aid in alleviating, and potentially eliminating, the discriminations that have occurred since September 11th.Research would help not only today’s society, but also aid in potential future problems as well. Further research on social power and the roles that familiarity and predictability play in society need to be explored, and hopefully with each new study done interpersonal, intergroup, and social power relations can all benefit in their own interactions as well.

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Suggested References

Abramson,L., Seligman, M., & Teasdale, J. (1978). Learned helplessness in 

 humans: Critique and reformulation, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87, 

 (1), 49-74.


Ansari, A. (1956). A study of relation between group stereotypes and social 

 distance, Journal of education and psychology, 14, 28-35.

Boulding, K. (1999). The nature of power. In Lewicki, R., & Saunders, D. (Eds.), 

Negotiation: Readings, exercises and cases (180-192).CA: Newbury Park.

Buell, J. (2002).Terrorism and Nationalism. Humanist, 62, (2), 36-38.


Dorn, F. (1984). The social influence model: A social psychological approach to 

 counseling. The personnel and guidance journal, 342-345.

Durrani, A. (2002, May).Anti-Muslim incidents up three-fold.Retrieved

September 29, 2002, from


Gill, J. (2001, September 26). Keeping the peace at work. Business Week

Online, retrieved March 24, 2002 from


Hogg, M., & Abrams, D. (2001). Intergroup Relations: An overview. (Ed.) 

Hogg, M. & Abrams, D.Intergroup Relations: Essential Readings

Michigan: Edwards Brothers.

Johnson, L., Mullick R., & Mulford, C. (2002). General Versus Specific Victim

Blaming. Journal of Social Psychology, 142, (2), 249-257.

Kelley, J. (2001, October).Expressions of patriotism, sympathy hit Randolph- 

Macon.The Yellow Jacket, 87, Retrieved October 21, 2002, from 



Labovitz, S., & Hagedorn, R. (1975). A structural-behavioral theory of intergroup 

 antagonism. Social Forces, 53, 444-448.


Normandeau, S., & Gobeil, A. (1998). A developmental perspective on 

 children’s understanding of causal attributions in achievement-related situations. 

 The international society for the study of behavioral development, 22, 


Phinney, J., Ferguson, D., & Tate, J. (1997). Intergroup Attitudes among ethnic 

minority adolescents: a causal model.Child Development, 68, 955-969.

Postmes, T., & Branscombe, N. (2002). Influence of long-term racial 

environmental composition on subjective well-being in African Americans.

Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 83, (3), 735-751. 

Pyszczynski, T, Solomon, S, & Greenberg, J.(2002).In the wake of 9/11: The 

Psychology of Terror, Washington D.C: American Psychological Association.


Stahelski, A., & Paynton, C. (1995, October). The effects of status cues on 

 choices of social power and influence strategies. Journal of Social 

 Psychology, 135, (5), 553- 562.

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 Relevant Links

American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Saint Anselm College


Social Psychology Network

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Appendix A

Scenario 1 

[Caucasian Student/Caucasian Student] Note: for experimental condition insert Binyamin for the name Jason, as well as the change of “Binyamin moved to Vermont from Jordan”. 

Jason and Eric are both sophomores in high school.Both are active participants in their class; they are members of the soccer team, international relations club, student council and concert band.Both are above average students with a GPA between the A and B range.Both come from the same socioeconomic class, in fact the two have been good friends since Jason moved to Vermont from Ohio. 

One day on the quad after school they were discussing the latest test grade that they had received in their history class. 

Jason: “Hey man, how did you do on Mr. Smith’s test? I got a 95!” 

Eric: “You got a 95?! What!? We both studied together and always do about the same and I got a 75.Way to be you little brown noser.Maybe I could get a 95 too if I volunteered to help clean the classroom and help coach his kids little league teams too!” 

Jason: “Hey man, chill out.Just because I am smarter than you doesn’t mean that I am brown noser. I like Mr. Smith, but I don’t hang out with the guy, and you know that I love baseball but I can’t play anymore because I ruined my knees catching. So shut up and lay off me.” 

Eric: “Yeah sure, whatever.Excuses, excuses.Why don’t you just run and tell Mr. Smith that I am giving you a hard time you little kiss up.I should have known something was up when you stayed after class the day before the exam you little sneak. You probably got a copy of the test or extra help or something from the guy didn’t you? No wonder why the class average was so weird—only two A’s and the rest C’s. Isn’t that convenient that you got one of the A’s!? I would rather have my C and know that I did it fair and square then the way that you probably got your A!” 

Jason: “You know that line that people say not to cross? Well you just jumped over it—why don’t you shut up and run home and cry to Mommy about it because I am pretty sick of your whining, DUMMY!” 

After this final comment the boys began to fight on the quad until a teacher at the school broke them up. Once in the principal’s office the boys were asked how the fight started and who was the initiator.

Control Group: Condition 2

[Caucasian Student/Caucasian Professor] Note: Insert the name Professor Ramallah for Professor Smith, as well as the change that he teaches Middle Eastern history and has maps of the Middle East on the walls.

Professor Smith is sitting in his cozy office on a Thursday afternoon finishing up grading papers from his United States history class when Joey, a sophomore, begins to pound on the door. Startled from his work and how the pictures of the United States on the walls, along with his maps and his degrees shook from the banging, Professor Smith got up and answered the door. 

Professor Smith: “Joey is there something wrong?” 

Joey: “Yes Professor Smith, there is something wrong.I was looking at the exam that I just got back from you today and I think that you made some mistakes while grading mine.” 

Professor Smith: “Joey, if you have a problem with my grading then I am sorry. But I do not appreciate you storming into my office and speaking to me in this tone.Now please leave.” 

Joey: “But Professor Smith, question 4 is completely ambiguous, any of the answers to the most important city in Florida would fit if one had the reasons that supported it.Or the essay question, all I see is a whole bunch of red lines through most of it, which I must say I studied directly from your notes about the state government in Florida, but there are no reasons as to why any of those points were taken off!” 

Professor Smith: “Joey, after the rude way that you stormed into my office I do not feel it necessary to discuss anything with you right now.I feel that I have graded your exam fairly, and I have been teaching United States History for the past 10 years, if you have a problem with my method then that is unfortunate for you.”

Joey: “Whoa Professor, sorry if I was rude, but I really did find a lot of problems with the way that you graded my paper.I really need to discuss them with you.” 

Professor Smith: “Honestly Joey, now is no longer a good time for this discussion.” 

Joey: “Professor, I am the one with the crappy and unfair grade!” 

Professor Smith, firmly: “Not now! Another time!” 

With that Joey was angrily shuffled out the door and Professor Smith fixed the crooked pictures on his wall and stomped back to his desk.

The following questions followed each scenario

1. Who do you feel was at blame in each scenario?

Use the following scale when answering the remaining questions:

1= Not at all7= Extremely

2.Do you think that he acted in a very inconsiderate manner?


3.How angry did you perceive him to be?


4.How in control of the situation did you think that he was?


5.To what degree were his actions made in response to the other person in the scenario?


6. To what extent do you think that an episode like this could occur again?


7.How often do you think he reacts like this?


8.Do you think that this is his only way of reacting to a conflict situation?


9.Do you think that he would only react to academic conflict this way, or to all situations?


10.Do you think that his reactions affect his personal relationships?


Appendix B

[Social Desirability Scale (Crowne & Marlow, 1960)] 

Sample of Questions:

4. I have never intensely disliked someone. 


7. I am always careful about my manner of dress. 


19. I sometimes try to get even, rather than forgive and forget. 


29. I have almost never felt the urge to tell someone off. 


33. I have never deliberately said something that hurt someone's feelings. 


Appendix C

[Manipulation Check]

1.After reading the scenarios, I felt that Eric was of __________nationality. 

Caucasian Asian Middle Eastern African American Native American


2. After reading the scenarios, I felt that Binyamin was of __________nationality. Caucasian Asian Middle Eastern African American Native American

3. After reading the scenarios, I felt that Joey was of __________nationality. 

Caucasian Asian Middle Eastern African American Native American

4. After reading the scenarios, I felt that Professor Ramallah was of ________nationality. 

CaucasianAsianMiddle EasternAfrican AmericanNative American

Appendix D

[Suspicion Check] 

1.Did you at any time feel the experiment dealt with anything other than what the experimenter explained to you?If so what? 

2.Did these feelings affect your behavior in any way?How so? 

Appendix E

[Feedback Statement] 

Thank you for your participation in this study. The purpose of this study was intended to investigate people’s impressions about specific races, namely Arab Americans, and whether there would be an increase or decrease in positive or negative impressions given the ambiguous conflict situations that you read.

The conflict situations that were given to you were two of the four potential ones given that ask questions about people’s attributions of blame and where the tendency to place these attributions lays.Research has shown that in many extreme conflict situations people tend to make attributions about those involved that extend into the general population. In other words, individual characteristics are overlooked, and often replaced by attributions assigned to the group in general.The answers you gave in no way reflects on you as an individual, as all people make attributions about the situations around them.The answers that were given are completely confidential.No individual identification of answers will be disclosed, only group averages

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